Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Going home or abroad: question for Bhutanese refugees in Nepal

Source: Xinhua

By Phanindra Dahal

Thirty-eight-year-old Krishna Prasad Sharma, who has been living in Nepalas a Bhutanese refugee since 1991, is excited that his family will soon find a new home in a developed country under a resettlement program.

But his old father Ram Prasad Sharma is not.

Sharma's family, living in makeshift huts at Goldhap refugee camp, some 320 km east of Nepali capital Kathmandu, is one among more than 7,800 Bhutanese refugees families residing in seven different camps of Jhapa and Morang districts in eastern Nepal.

Some 105,000 Bhutanese refugees have been living in seven camps in eastern Nepal for the last 17 years. Bilateral talks between Nepal and Bhutan -- 15 rounds of them -- failed to yield any results so far.

Since the beginning of this year, the third-country resettlement of the refugees in north America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand has started.

"My life in the refugee camp is like a hell. I have no job and earnings," said Krishna, whose application for third country resettlement is in process.

"We waited for so many years but Bhutan is not ready to accept us. I don't want my children to suffer like us," said the father of two sons.

The refugees entered Nepal via bordering towns of India during late 1980s and early 1990s after Bhutanese government carried out ethnic cleansing against people of Nepali origin.

For the last 17 years, the Bhutanese refugees have been living in Nepal with the support from United Nations food and shelter program.

The Nepal-Bhutan talks began in 2003 and in 2007 the Nepali government gave the green light for the refugees to resettle abroad.

Krishna Sharma said he planned to work and strive for a good living for his wife and children in a foreign land.

"I will work hard and educate my two kids so that they can live a happy life," he added.

According to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Nepal, seven western governments -- the United States, the Netherlands, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Norway and Denmark -- have offered to resettle nearly 90 thousand refugees.

The United States said it was ready to pick up 60,000 initially, followed by as many as wishing, in the next five years.

"Until mid-June, 37,988 refugees have applied for resettlement and 1,186 have been resettled," UNHCR Nepal's external assistant Nini Gurung told Xinuha days ago.

"We would be sending more and more refugees in coming months," she added.

But Bhutanese refugee resettlement program has brought a big division among the refugees living inside the bamboo-and-mud-made huts.

Krishna's 70-year-old father Ram Prasad Sharma is against the resettlement program.

"My forefathers lived there. I have a house and land in Bhutan," he said, "How can I leave my properties and friends and go to foreign countries?"

"I want to die on the land of Bhutan, I will not follow the footprints of my son and go abroad," he added.

"All the energetic people inside the camps are preparing for resettlement. If they go, who will take care of us and run the movement for repatriation," he said sadly.

The refugees organized a "long march" to go back to Bhutan via India in March last year but Indian security forces at Indo-Nepal border stopped them. One refugee died and many were injured in the clash.

Last year after Nepali government decided to allow refugees to resettle, violence erupted inside camps. Two refugees died in the clash between groups supporting and opposing resettlement program.

Most of the Bhutanese Refugees who do not want to be resettled hope that Bhutan will be compelled to take them back if strong international pressure is put against it.

"To transport refugees from one country to another is not a durable solution," S.B. Subba, the chairman of Human Rights Association of Bhutan (HUROB), an organization in exile said, adding that the international community should give more priority to repatriation than resettlement.

"The aid agencies and international community have given more focus on resettlement of refugees. But Bhutan is the ultimate destiny for refugees and solution of this problem," He said.

Some groups have even started to target against resettlement program.

On June 30, three bombs exploded inside the office of International Organization of Migration (IOM) situated at Damak city in Jhapa district. It was near the refugee camps.

But till now, Bhutan, which entered a new democracy after the historic election in this May, has shown no signs of accepting the refugees as its legitimate citizens.

In the Goldhap camp, while father Ram is waiting for the time when he can return to his homeland, his son Krishna is desperately longing for the ticket abroad.

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