International community must take concreate steps for lasting solution of Bhutanese Refugee Problem

By Dr. D. N.S.Dhakal                                          Published Thursday, April 21, 2016

Almost eight years have passed since the international community started third country resettlement of Bhutanese refugees. It was the visit of Ellen R. Sauerbrey, Assistant Secretary of State for population, to Thimphu in 2007 that opened the door for third country resettlement. This visit was subsequent to visit by US senators Jime Kolbe, Brian Baird and Crenshaw in 2006. Jime Kolbe was the chairperson of sub-committee for foreign operation.

It was primarily the US effort that has enabled resettlement of more than 100,000 Bhutanese refugees in overseas countries. As of 31st March, 2016: US has resettled 86,340; Canada, 6.671; Australia, 5,756; New Zealand, 1006; Denmark. 874; Norway, 500; the UK, 398; and the Netherlands, 329. As per the official record of Nepal government, there are 16,653 registered refugees in UNHCR camps by March end.

The promise to open the door for repatriation to Bhutan has not yet happened. Nepal is going through political instability, India is out of the scene from the refugee issue, and the international community is yet to revisit the issue of repatriation.

Bhutan is busy pushing its pet agenda of gross national happiness. No harm is spreading the concept of gross national happiness though I am skeptical about its practical utility as an applied economist. Obviously, it has the potential to a server as a shock absorber in the emerging great power game in South Asia though I tend to compare it with the zone of peace proposed by late King Birendra in the 1970s.

I read the keen international audience of gross national happiness and rating of Bhutan this year as top ranking press freedom country in South Asia in that perspective

At present our suggestion to the international community is to make a sincere effort to solve the refugee problem for long-term political stability in Bhutan. Bhutan has not permitted yet teaching of the Nepali language in schools, and there are pending citizenship cases of over 40,000 residents.

There will be residual refugee population in the camps whose agenda is to return Bhutan. In addition, there are unregistered Bhutanese refugees in India who are eking out their living in Sikkim, North Bengal, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. A.C. Shina noted Indian expert on Nepali migration, reports that Bhutanese Nepali population in India could be as high as 50,000.

Another agenda which is core to the political settlement is recognition of genuine resettled Bhutanese as non-resident Bhutanese (NRB). It is a matter of principle and issue of residual justice that that option should be given to the resettled Bhutanese community.