Friday, October 24, 2008

Not all Bhutanese can get resettled

Source: The Kathmandu Post

BELDANGI (JHAPA), Oct 23 - Like many of his countrymen, Hom Bahadur Dahal, 50, a Bhutanese refugee from Beldangi camp in Jhapa district, rushed to sign up for resettlement in the United States earlier this year. He felt his days of hardship were finally over.

His neighbours in the camp are now all set to fly abroad for resettlement but not Dahal. His hopes suddenly ended two months ago when he was rejected for resettlement in the United States.

"My family had opted for resettlement to begin a new life in the United States, but my application was rejected," says Dahal, a former corporal in the Bhutanese Army. However, the applications of his son's four-member family and daughter were accepted.

For Bhutanese refugees, the reason why U.S. officials rejected Dahal seems bizarre at best. The paper handed over to Dahal explaining why he was rejected reads: You are ineligible for refugee status because it has been determined that you ordered, incited, assisted, or otherwise participated in the persecution of others on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

"You were a member of the Bhutanese Army that was involved in the persecution of ethnic Nepalese in Bhutan," Dahal quoted U.S. Homeland Security officials telling him.

"I am myself a victim of ethnic cleansing. I cannot even think of committing atrocities against my people," says Dahal. He appealed for revision of the decision, but to no avail.

According to Dahal, he had been serving in the Bhutanese army at Paru Guincha, northern Bhutan, when Nepali speakers were being evicted from Bhutan.

Three months after his parents were evicted from Bhutan in 1991, Dahal was sacked from his job and asked to either leave Bhutan within a month or face persecution.

In the chilly winter of 1992, Dahal and his family joined a refugee caravan flocking to neighboring India. A few months later, he ended up in the refugee camp in Jhapa.

He is now separated from five members of his family, including two grandsons -- five-year-old Manish and nine-month-old Anish. They are soon leaving for the U.S., leaving Dahal, his wife Lilamaya, 45, and one of his sons behind in Nepal.

The U.S. embassy here said that it does not have a policy of commenting on individual cases.

According to Ram Bhandari, a refugee activist at Beldangi, refugees have been rejected on the grounds that they made material contributions to the Bhutan People's Party (BPP) or supported the underground Bhutan Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist).

"I don't get why they reject settlement for BPP supporters as the party's youth wing - Youth Organization of Bhutan (YOB) is operating from the U.S. itself?" Bhandari said.

Bhutanese refugees say resettlement forms of some three dozen Bhutanese refugee teachers who sang revolutionary songs during Tihar festival last year have not been processed.

"Generally, we do not grant resettlement permission to individuals that have been affiliated to groups involved in acts of violence or have serious criminal convictions," said Nicole Chulick, U.S. embassy spokesperson.

According to her, about 8,400 Bhutanese refugees have been interviewed and around 20 have been refused permission to resettle in the U.S.

The U.S. had initially announced resettlement of 60,000 refugees, but said this number could increase if there is interest among refugees.

Kimberly Roberson, senior durable solutions officer at UNHCR, said the UN office cannot question why a host country has rejected resettlement of a particular person.

"Every country has its own laws," she said.

She said that those who have been rejected for resettlement by any country should tell the UNHCR about themselves and it would direct them toward resettlement in some other suitable country.

Besides the US, New Zealand, Australia, Denmark, Canada, Norway and Netherlands are also resettling Bhutanese refugees.

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