Unresolved Bhutanese Refugee Problem

As per the report of Refugee Coordination Unit of Nepal the total number of Bhutanese refugee population in Nepal is 24340 as of 30 September 2014. Of the total seven refugee camps only Sanischare and Beldangi are functioning. Timai, Goaldhap and Khudunabari camps are closed.

There are in total 6287 huts in Beldangi and Sanischari camps combined. Beldangi has 5222 and Sanisharai has 1065. The number of familes are 5933 of which 32 are living outside the camps.

The UNHCR gave final call for processing application for third country resettlement in July of this year. Of the remaining total families how many had applied is hard to say. Rumors are that a substantial number from the remaining population have applied for third country resettlement, including some prominent leaders living outside the camps. The UNHCR keeps the application records top secret.

There are eight refugee receiving countries. US is the largest recipient with total of 78,738 individuals as of September end. It is flowed by Canada (6110), Australia (5263), New Zealand (912), Denmark (874), Norway (556), Great Britain (358) and Netherlands (326). In total 93,137 Bhutanese refugees have been resettled.

Reportedly, the resettled refugees are doing well in overseas countries. In USA many of them have bought home, their children have joined engineering and medical colleges, and they are happily practicing their own culture and tradition, which was restricted in Bhutan. If the performance of the initial period is any indication, the resettled Bhutanese community would emerge as successful immigrant population in overseas countries.

A small number of population is determined to return to Bhutan. It includes the people of Nepali ethnicity as well as the Sarchops, who are members of Druk National Congress. Bhutan had promised the international community that it would repatriate a small number of remaining refugees towards the end of third country resettlement program. Government of Nepal has renewed refugee identity card until 2017, when it plans to close down all the camps. The international community has not yet begun putting pressure on Bhutan for repatriation of the remaining refugees though the government of Bhutan has shown sign of reconciliation by giving cultural freedom to the remaining Hindu population in Bhutan.

The political parties and human rights groups, who had been campaigning the cause of Bhutanese refugees, are yet to come up with a coherent voice for resolution of the refugee problem. Many of the prominent activist leaders have taken the route of third country resettlement and have already acquired, or in the process of acquiring, citizenship rights of the host country. The remaining leadership back in the camps are yet to come up with unified voice, listing out the agenda for amicable resolution.

Bhutan National Democratic Party and Druk National Congress had been demanding non-resident Bhutanese status to the resettled community and dignified repatriation of the remaining refugee population to Bhutan. The Bhutanese Refugee Representative Repatriation Committee, Human Rights Organization of Bhutan and Teknath Rizal have also endorsed the concept. Bhutan People’s Party and Druk National Congress (Democratic) are yet to decide on the issue of non-resident Bhutanese status to the resettled community.

The BJP lead government of India and the government of Nepal are vigorously campaigning to link their dispersed diaspora back to their motherland. Nepal is expected to endorse non-voting right citizenship status to non-resident Nepalese (NRN) and India is working on granting long-term resident status to the people of Indian origin (PIO). Obviously, both India and Nepal see merit in reconnecting the dispersed diaspora from the viewpoint of economic benefit and overall welfare of the dispersed community.

Likely, size of Bhutanese community would exceed 100,000 in overseas countries. This is not a small population for a small country like Bhutan. It could take advantage in the transfer of knowledge and technology and could convert the erstwhile so-called political adversary partner in development and in promotion of national interest in overseas countries.

It is a million dollars question whether or not Bhutan would seize this opportunity or go on posturing until such time that the event of history would take its own course to give justice to those who have been denied for generation.