Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Refugee leaders ask Nepal to solve Bhutanese refugee crisis

Source: Kantipur
By Deepak Adhikari

KATHMANDU, Dec 17 - Bhutanese refugee leaders, living exiled life in Nepal, on Wednesday welcomed the assurances made by the Nepali government to form a taskforce to resolve the Bhutanese refugee crisis.

Speaking at a programme organised here, on the day Bhutan was celebrating its National Day, Chairman of National Democratic Front (NDF)— the front of three major political parties of Bhutan—Bala Ram Poudel said that the international community and the Nepal government should take initiatives to resolve the Bhutanese refugee crisis in Nepal. "Being the host country, Nepal should take initiatives to repatriate the refugees," said he, adding, "And, the Nepal government should talk to India also to find the solution to this crisis."

The land-locked Himalayan Kingdom observes its national day on December 17 every year to mark the accession of the first king of Wanngchuk dynasty, Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuk, to the throne.

Poudel, who is also the president of the Bhutan People's Party (BPP), further said. "Refugees have been observing December 17—the National Day of Bhutan—as a day of plight."

He demanded that the Nepal government should implement the commitment it made in its annual programmes and policies mentioned in its 85th point apropos to the resolution of the refugee crisis. "Miraculous change has occurred in Nepal," said the president of the BPP, the largest Bhutanese party in exile, adding, "But, the refugee problem has stuck at the same place where it was earlier."
While speaking about the newly promulgated constitution of Bhutan, the Bhutanese leader remarked that it has bestowed a special right to the king which clarifies the fact that the he is above the constitution. "A drama of change is being staged in Bhutan," he said.
Likewise, another Bhutanese leader DK Rai, who was recently released after spending 17 years in a Bhutanese dungeon, on the initiatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), spoke about the torture inflicted on him in the jail.
Rai, who was arrested in November 1991 and detained at the police headquarters in the Bhutanese capital, Thimphu, said that the prisoners of conscience were forced to work in road construction. "We had to bring stones from the river and crush them into pebbles with hammer," he recalled.

According to him, there were altogether 32 political detainees in two blocks in the jail he was confined at before his release. "Some of them have been sentenced to life imprisonment, while others for five to 10 years," said Rai, the former General Secretary of Druk National Congress (DNC). Currently, Rai is under treatment with the help of Center for Victims of Torture(CVICT).

His family, residing in the southern parts of Bhutan, was chased away in 1994 while he was in the jail. They ended up at Khudunabari refugee camp in Jhapa district, Nepal, via India seeking asylum. There are over 100, 000 refugees residing at seven different camps of Jhapa and Morang districts run by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Among them, around 8000 have been resettled in third countries after seven different western countries, including the US, came up with the proposal for resettling around 80,000 refugees.
Of them, 7500 have been resettled in 33 different states of USA, while 365 in Australia, 134 in New Zeeland and the others in Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands. Canada has pledged to resettle 5000 refugees, 24 among them have started to settle at St Jerome, Quebec in Canada recently.
Majority of the leaders claim that the resettlement process will help the democratic movement in Bhutan. "The refugees will support our agitation, wherever they go," said Poudel. He added that the refugees have been divided into two categories—favouring resettlement and willing to be repatriated.

What is more, Rai opined that unless it is not launched from Bhutan itself, the movement cannot succeed. "There is no real democracy in Bhutan. To set up democracy, a movement should be launched from the country," said he.
Meanwhile, Bhutanese refugees residing in Nepal protested the National Day of Bhutan today by organising rallies and demonstrations at various places in Jhapa district.
The refugees living at camps staged demonstrations at three refugee camps today. They said that it is useless to celebrate the national day by Bhutan, their country of origin.

These refugees, mostly ethnic Nepali speaking groups from the southern plains of Bhutan, began entering Nepal in 1990. They fled their country fearing the enforcement of new citizenship laws and the "one nation, one people" policy of cultural assimilation in the late 1980s.

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