TCR –A mixed bag of opportunities and miseries

Published on Aug 29 2010 // Commentary
By Mohan Sharma

After eighteen years of life in camps as a result of the failed bilateral talks between Nepal and Bhutan for repatriation, the process of Third Country Resettlement (TCR) got initiated for over 100,000 Bhutanese refugees. UNHCR deserves a big applause for its genuine effort for supporting so many refugees in Nepal and many more throughout the world for such long time and still looking for some durable solution for them. As the process began back in 2008 it was euphoric for many refugees who were fade up of the pathetic life in the camp and who have lost hope of returning to Bhutan some day in future. In over two and a half years of the resettlement process, approximately 35,000 refuges have been successfully resettled in as many as seven countries around the world. But as the process is accelerating the initial euphoria is slowing, turning into painful sobs to many of the people both remaining back in the camp and equally who are resettled.

Before I take to the complete discourse of the opportunities and miseries bagged by these refugees I think it would be genuinely important to make a space for the terrific gesture of the countries willing to resettle the refugees and also for the tremendous hard work of UNHCR in preparing these countries to accept the refugees. All the eight countries viz-USA, Canada, Australia, Denmark, Norway, Netherlands, New Zealand and United Kingdom which have offered to resettle, are highly developed nation states. The number intake for these countries is different; the USA taking the major chunk of the refugee population and nobody knows the rationale about this number game. Whatever could be the terms and conditions for resettlement-be it on totally humanitarian ground or with some vested interest of these states, refuges were/are still happy for they have an opportunity to escape out of the horrible camp life.

What was that the ill-fated refugees were chasing in choosing to get resettled in unknown land than to go back to their own country if there could be a chance even in the remote future. To the best as I have found out of my small research on the subject is the prospect of being the nationality of some country. The pain of living without any nationality was too big for the refugees even bigger than the all powerful money at times. Some would recollect the sad experience that they had gone through when the local folks ridiculed them for being refugees. Rest of the requirements for life would automatically follow you by one or the other means if you are a citizen of a nation and with the today’s concept of welfare nation, it’s the responsibility of the host nations also to ensure the basic amenities to its citizens. When the host country in question happens to be some of the most developed countries in the world, the Bhutanese refugees did not much hesitate to make a clear cut decision.

The prospect of higher education and better earning was clearly riding high for thosewho completed school/college. What many of them thought was that the families with small kids were the winners as the kids would be able to avail free education till the pre- university level. It was a win win situation for all section except some form of lingering apprehension for those who don’t have any formal education, neither have skill nor are the children apt of it. This section had and has serious concern on the whole process though many of them gambled for it come what may.

No doubt this was and is an opportunity for all the refugees equally but as usual those who made and making the best of it is the most influential people of the community. “Leader leads from the front” did hold good here too as everyone who claimed to have made the process possible happily got resettled in less than six months of the beginning of the process. Though much was written and said against the TCR from various quarters and some of the groups even resented into physical violence almost all the leadership category across all partyline or NGOs got resettled within six months of the process beginning. They led from the front and settled happily leaving behind the poor refugees who lived in the camps 24X7 for the last twenty years. The scorching sun, the torrential rain and the wild wind never made any difference to these leaders as they spent whole of their so called exiled life in the capital city or in big towns in air-conditioned apartments. So were they the right people to be resettled the question still remains.

The next section to follow suit was the elite class who hardly stayed in the camps. This section comprises of the academicians (teachers) and professionals (doctors, engineers and CA, MBA etc). They were then busy making money working with big corporate houses and teaching in premier institutions in the capital and big cities in Nepal and India. Since they updated themselves with everything around, they wasted no time and even money when things were not working to grab the TCR opportunity.

It is wise to bring in some of the facts that who also benefited in a big way due to this refugee problem. Hundreds of locals got very highly paid UN jobs simply because of the refugees otherwise many of them would have been sweating in the gulf countries.  Though majority of this local folk made the best use of the opportunity to climb the ladder some of them fell pray of quick success and money and ended up in turmoil. The influential class mentioned above made the best using this insincere and dishonest people for manipulation of their cases to get settled at the earliest.

Within these two and half years of resettlement process not less than a dozen of bonafide Nepalese are settled in different countries as Bhutanese refugees. This clearly shows the inability of the concerned agency in verification and documentation of these people. More seriously this instance exposes the big scandal by the agency official and some refugee touts by exporting Nepali   nationals as refugees in exchange of big cash. This calls for the rigorous investigation of the irregularity by top most official of the agency should the pride of UN not put on stake.

UNHCR has not been able to put forward its policy for the mixed marriage cases but there are at least a dozen cases where resettlement has happened and more shockingly even Nepalese man marrying a Bhutanese girl have been resettled. There are hundreds of mixed marriage cases pending today without any response, if at all there is any response the pace of execution is not faster than the speed of a snail. I think it’s high time the concerned authority takes this seriously.

Though TCR has made the life of some of the refugees better a lot of suffering also came along with it. More than half a dozen suicide cases have been reported so far because of sheer depressions. Illiterate and unskilled people are worst affected as there aren’t any proper training imparted before exposing them to earn their living. People settled in the US are the most vulnerable ones so far as this syndrome is concerned as the assistance is offered only for eight months and they have to live by themselves there after. In some places these poor people aren’t even properly counseled when they face the serious crises.

The fragmented family is one other area where much remains to be done by the concerned agencies. There are instances where due to some reason or the other the process is stalled or delayed for some members of the family. In some cases old parents are sent abroad and the children are held back for months and vice versa which is a very tough choice of both the parties. As the number of people getting settled is increasing day by day, this number is also increasing. The agencies must turn their ears here.

Lot has been heard in the recent past regarding the organization of resettled refugees. There are now organizations locally and nationally in every country which inspires for better tomorrow. UNHCR no doubt has done a commendable job here too as it has been doing for years in almost every part of the world but quite a number of things still remain undone or to be precisely correct –to be done in a more prudent way. This is really high time the agency should be very critical about the fragmented families as the situation is such that should there be death of a member of the family, rest of the family members cannot even see the person for the last time and attend the last rite. As this fragmentation is the creation of the agency it should have be the foremost priority for their reunification.