Bhutan refugees bid tearful farewell to NepalMarch 10th, 2008 - 6:42 pm ICT by admin
By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, March 10 (IANS) Twenty Bhutanese refugees, including a one-year-old child, Monday bid a tearful farewell to Nepal and the hope of ever being able to return home, as they headed for the US to start a new life after languishing for 17 years in closed camps. Three refugee families with 20 members, who had flown along with 43 more peers from their shanties in Sanischare camp in eastern Nepal, sobbed and looked glum as they went inside Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport to fly out to start life afresh in the US.
“We don’t know what we are going to do,” said Manorath Koirala, the head of a family of 10 members.
“We have not even been told where we are going. We have been given no documents except for one that identifies us as refugees.”
Lack of transparency and secrecy shrouded the resettlement process with the International Organisation for Migration, chosen to facilitate the exodus, remaining evasive and herding the refugees into the airport to prevent interaction with awaiting journalists.
Over 30,000 of the nearly 108,000 people living in two eastern districts of Nepal under the supervision of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have applied for third-country settlement after the US last year spearheaded a drive by western countries to offer a new home to them and Nepal finally agreed to allow them go instead of pushing for repatriation.
“We lived in the camp for 17 years,” said a bleak Koirala. “Bhutan refused to take us back and Nepal refused to let us become citizens. India furthermore prevented us from returning home.”
“We are now forced to leave so that our children might have a better future.”
The exodus starts ironically as Bhutan goes to its first general election March 24 in a purported bid by its royal family to democratise the isolated Himalayan kingdom and begin handing over power to an elected government.
The refugee drama started in the 1980s when Bhutan began cracking down on citizens of Nepali origin.
The evicted Lhotsampas, as they were called, first fled to India across the border, from where thousands proceeded to Nepal.
Though Bhutan held over 15 rounds of repatriation talks with Nepal due to mounting international pressure, it broke off dialogue under a pretext and has not allowed a single refugee to return.
On the contrary, its ministers have gone on record as saying that Maoists pervade the refugee camps and to allow the refugees back would be tantamount to importing terrorism.
Though Nepal and the international community urged India, Bhutan’s biggest donor and trade partner, to persuade the Druk government, New Delhi has refused to do so, saying the issue was a bilateral matter between Bhutan and Nepal.
The third country resettlement offer gave rise to mounting tension in the camps and violence as those desiring to return home clashed with those willing to go abroad.
Earlier this month, there was a devastating fire in one of the camps, rendering over 9,000 people homeless and adding to the urgency of the need to find a durable solution to the refugee issue.
On Wednesday, the remaining 43 refugees who came from east Nepal would flow to New Zealand.
- Nepal, Bhutan agree to talks on refugee homecoming - Apr 15, 2011
- As Bhutan PM starts Nepal visit, refugees seek return home - Apr 14, 2011
- Bhutan hedges on refugee return, seeks fresh verification - Apr 16, 2011
- Bhutanese refugees pin homecoming hopes on SAARC Summit - Apr 27, 2010
- Nepal again asks Bhutan to take back refugees - Feb 10, 2010
- Nepal's Tibetan refugee resettlement plan still in doldrums - Sep 08, 2011
- US raises stateless Tibetans' issue in Nepal - Jun 06, 2011
- Bhutan refugees from Nepal seek India's help - Jul 14, 2012
- Nepal's apex court comes to Tibetan refugees' aid - Sep 23, 2011
- Bhutanese refugee leader gunned down in Nepal camp - Apr 22, 2009
- Lhotshampas: A community that Bhutan abandoned (Comment) - Mar 27, 2011
- Refugees' return to Mizoram from Tripura put off - Apr 27, 2012
- Mizoram Bru refugee repatriation from Tripura begins - May 22, 2010
- Tibetan refugees ask Nepal to address rights in new constitution - Aug 05, 2011
- Chidambaram asks refugees in Tripura to return to Mizoram (Lead) - Feb 18, 2012
Tags: 17 years, better future, bhutanese refugees, eastern nepal, election march, exodus, himalayan kingdom, international organisation for migration, kathmandu, refugee families, repatriation, resettlement, returning home, royal family, secrecy, shanties, sudeshna sarkar, tribhuvan international airport, un high commissioner for refugees, western countries