Friday, September 12, 2008

Resettlement In Australia

Source: The Rising Nepal

By: T. P. Mishra

The offer of Third Country Resettlement (TCR) for now has become an immediate solution to the protracted Bhutanese refugee issue. Even looking at it statistically, an escalating number of refugees are showing interest in the TCR. As many as 3,000 plus Bhutanese refugees have already been resettled in different countries, including the US, the biggest of the resettling core group comprising Australia, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Norway.

Why the delay?

Majority of the refugees being resettled have reached the US. The other six countries in the core group have been a bit slow in expediting the resettlement process. The latest statistical data show that as many as 62 individuals among the 1,000 already interviewed have been resettled in Australia. The process for resettlement, particularly in Australia, is confusing to the people living in the different camps. A number of refugees, whose process for resettlement in Australia has been completed, have been frustrated by the delaying tactics opted by the Australian government.

Refugees who began the necessary process for resettlement in Australia following the visit by Ellen Saurbrey on November 1, 2007 are yet to get their confirmation date to leave Nepal for Australia. Ganga Woti Bhujel (name changed) of Sanischare camp began the process for resettlement in Australia in 2007. Ganga Woti says she was given assurances of resettlement within four months of undergoing her medical check-up in February 2008. What is interesting is that Ganga Woti will have to undergo more medical check-ups once the date crosses six months. Ganga Woti further says that she has been wearing the clothes and using other basic necessities which she intended to use after resettling in Australia. Like many others, Ganga Woti has also sold all her belongings after the medical check-up.

A number of refugees have already undergone numerous medical check-ups. A source very close to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), on condition of anonymity, says that the IOM usually carries out the medical check-ups for refugees to be resettled in Australia without wasting a single day once the file is received at the office. Thus it is only natural that those who have undergone medical check-ups should be greatly frustrated.

In comparison to the resettlement programme in the US, those applying or whose process is already underway, particularly for Australia, are in a sea-saw position, meaning they do not know whether to withdraw and apply for another country or wait and see for new developments, if any. There is no concerned authority stationed near the refugee camps where the refugees can put forth their inquiries regarding resettlement in Australia.

Many refugees complain that the staff at the Damak-based UNHCR office do not cooperate when the refugees reach the office for any inquiry. This unfair and unjustifiable trend should be immediately stopped. It is necessary on the part of the resettling countries to establish an inquiry office near the refugee camps. This will help the refugees to stay free of any mental harassment. The UNHCR must state clearly if it is capable of handling all these issues single-handedly.

It is worth drawing the attention to a case of one Raghu Bhandari (name changed) of Morang-based Sanischare camp. His brother has gone mentally ill following the delay in the resettlement process in Australia. He had undergone the medical check-up as early as January 2008.

Another Bhandari family (surname changed) in Beldangi-II camp regrets choosing Australia as their resettling country. "If it is possible, we want to withdraw our case from resettling in Australia," says the father who leads the family. The other problem is that the UNHCR gradually cuts off facilities for refugees whose resettlement process has begun. This family has had the bitter experience of seeing rude behaviour from the UNHCR staff while making inquiries about their resettlement process in Australia.


Dissemination of reliable information is a problem, with which the refugees are getting impatient. The IOM is not the agency to deal with resettlement in Australia, and the UNHCR is unresponsive to the queries put forth by the refugees. To be honest, people in the camps say Australia is not the best country to be resettled. This might not be true, but the concerned authorities have the moral obligation to disseminate reliable information to the refugee community. They have the right to know why the delay in the resettlement in Australia.

Those refugees visiting the Kathmandu-based Australian Embassy quoted officials as saying that the Australian government would resettle only as many Bhutanese refugees as the Canadian Government does as agreed in the core group negotiation. The Canadian government has resettled a little more than a dozen refugees till date and has yet to resettle a considerable number within this year. The Australian government might be waiting to see what number of refugees the Canadian government would resettle this year and make its plan accordingly.

Many refugee students have already quit their studies after getting assurances from the Kathmandu-based Australian Embassy. But the same embassy has now been saying that further inquires need to be made directly with the New Delhi-based immigration head office. So the delaying schemes of the Australian government need to be read between the lines.

(The author is editor of Kathmandu-based Bhutan News Service)

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