Bhutanese Refugee issue – ‘A Rigmarole’

Published on Sep 21 2011 // Commentary
By Thinley Penjore

Bhutanese Refugee making and the Struggle
Ensuing mass exodus of the Bhutanese citizens from south Bhutan in 1990, a large group of Sharchhokps and people from other communities entered Nepal and started working for the establishment of a real and inclusive democracy in Bhutan.

Although refugee making has nothing to do with Nepal, the imbroglio emerged as a bi-lateral issue between Nepal and Bhutan. The entire crisis passed through bi-lateral process of fifteen rounds in fifteen years. India, the giant neighbor, champion of democracy in the region remained a mere observer bound by the greatly cherished traditional friendship of the Bhutanese palace with the ruling party in India.

While Bhutan is on the verge of completing its first round of parliamentary system of the so-called democracy by the end of 2012, time is ripening to make optimum use of the advantages to garner adequate international support for sustaining our struggle for democracy.

In this context, every stakeholder will agree to the disadvantages we have experienced living in Nepal and using Indian soil for the purpose of our campaign works. Our movement in the Indian soil had bitter experiences following arrest of prominent refugee activists, who ultimately landed up in Bhutan jails under fabricated charges. Further, in the host country of asylum, Nepal failed to look at the Bhutanese problems as the political by-product.

Unlike Bhutanese people from Lhotshampa community, who speak Nepali language and practice Hinduism, Nepal government took almost eight years to register Sharchhokp communities, who entered Nepal to get the official registration into the refugee camps. Absence of such a registration thus made the Sharchhokps difficult to reach beyond Nepal to make international campaigns. Statements and reporting that appeared in Nepal’s media and limited international arena described the nature of refugee making as humanitarian and the genesis of the victims to belong to Nepalese origin – thus supporting regime’s version of describing the exodus as the illegal migrants thereby presenting the crisis as “ethnic cleansing” to the outside world.

Presence of Sharchhokp community in the camps is the testimonies of political refugees representing various sections of Bhutanese community. It is high time that we look forward to raising a unified single voice in the international arena in parallel to Bhutan in terms of campaign and advocacy for a real and inclusive democracy in Bhutan.

The Durable Solution – Repatriation – A Rigmarole
Upon finding conducive atmosphere in the home country, the third country resettlement of the willing refugees to different countries does not lose our hope for repatriation. On the other hand, our people enters into entrepreneurial opportunities that assures future security in terms of financial matters through education and experience and politically stable through exposure and empowerment besides learning to understand the essence and values of true democracy.

Our suffering in the political struggle that has always been a slack and kept on limping at the foot of the uphill task will also substantially benefit as the third country resettlement would mean gaining stronger temperament to our movement. Although we are physically displaced all over the world, the power of IT will not keep us handicapped, but will help to work towards an inclusive, vibrant and strong democracy that could address to the aspirations of the diversity of both refugees and other Bhutanese citizens alike.

The 21st century IT world of computer age, the mobile phones, i-phones and power driven infrastructure with fast moving amenities will give us ample chances and opportunities to equip and technically fine tune ourselves to building up a befitting citizen for a country like Bhutan.

What Next?
The third country resettlement opportunity promises a ray of hope to take our movement beyond the Indian sub-continent. I am quite optimistic that if all the Bhutanese people work collectively using all the available technical knowhow in the countries of resettlement, we would be able to bring about the desired change in Bhutan, which shall be beneficial to each and every stakeholder and to all the Bhutanese people. Since the gateway to repatriation and participation of the Bhutanese refugees in the process of change in the system of people’s government is bleak, there are no other alternatives to third country resettlement at the present juncture. This is perhaps the destiny shown by our tutelary deities, whose blessings have come in disguise at this crucial period of the lost journey. It is time that we emerge from the state of isolation imposed by circumstances and embrace the option of third country resettlement without much ado.

Going by the phrase, “Better late than Never”, it is time that we seek a new host and start preparing for a better, strategic, consistent and sustained campaign befitting to the need of the hour. On the other hand, it is my conviction that the newly emerged government in the old host country Nepal would continue to nurture the growth of refugee empowerment by also speeding up the registration of those asylum seekers, who are either deregistered or those seeking new registration. I also look forward to the new government of Nepal to continue giving their support consistently to the UNHCR so as to incessantly benefit all the Bhutanese refugees in the camps in Nepal, who are all discriminated citizens of Bhutan.

Last but not the least, I must thank all the media and their channels for their continued advocacy and support to the Bhutanese issue without which our struggle would not have reached the international platforms. It is my sincere wish that the media society will continue to give closer attention to the Bhutanese struggle and give their unbiased justice in the overall interest of bringing about an impartial conclusion to the Bhutanese people’s humanitarian and political struggle.

Thinley Penjore is President of Druk National Congress (Democratic)