Threats, Impunity and Protection
By Ichha Poudyel, Australia
The headlines in our newspaper and news sites these days are dominantly on the threats and murders in the camps. Despite having protection cell at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and International Organization for Migration (IOM) ,and the security surveillance of the police, threats inside camps are on rise, and thus refugees are pushed to comply with the criminals. Those refugees and their leaders ,who often spread unwanted rumours to oppose resettlement by relating every untoward incidence to it ,have the mud wet.They have high time to fish the laymen with the resettlement hook in this troubled water. However, we should go steps back to our journey into the quest of freedom and regret honestly for the impunity we have always carried along.
While working for the newspaper and radio, I have come across different refugee fellows who requested me to publish their news of being intimidated so that the concerned authority would accelerate their resettlement process. To verify the truth behind this request is not an easy task for one working voluntarily despite his busy schedule. Public are less cooperative in digging the truth out as the Bhutanese community do not have a good knowledge of the strength of a media. The gravity and nature of threats in camps are to be accessed independently using common sense.
Not all threats can be genuine; some are artificial while some are even invited. In absence of an effective mechanism to probe into them, refugees have good excuses to make, to easily fool the concerned authority making it believe that they are insecure. For example, the authenticity of the posters without letter heads should be given a double thought. There can be two possibilities- either those ,whose names are listed on it ,themselves prepared and pasted at night or the communist groups which often camouflage themselves with animal names like Leopard, Cobra or Black Cat are attempting to create havocs in camps to discourage resettlement.
Earlier, similar posters had appeared in the refugee camps which warned a few individuals, particularly those whose roles are well known. Some of them were resettled in the western countries with a priority while others are still in the refugee camps with no harm faced so far.
Unfortunately, those who have easy access to the high level officials of the UNHCR and Nepal government get protection but laymen are left in the fire of a violence.
Those groups or parties which warn refugees with posters at nights must not be given serious concern and comply promptly with their warnings because this act can encourage them to continue their night business to terrorize people. They can hunt only the people, not their thoughts. People living in a democratic country should freely exercise their democratic rights.
I feel, warning someone to take his life away should be considered at par with a murder charge and victim be well compensated for his possible trauma that may develop as a result. It is a sheer violation of his human rights and the act is punishable under the domestic and the international laws.
We have witnessed a numerous murders in the past from Royal Bhutan Army (RBA) and Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) during the pro-democratic peaceful demonstrations and in custody afterwards. Cadres of Bhutan People’s Party(BPP) which was formed by the Bhutanese who fled the country before 1990 also killed dozens of citizens at Garganda in India inhumanly. Even no survey is conducted to keep the records of the loss of lives in both of these circumstances. This has definitely given continuity to the impunity in which two latest editions are seen, inside Bhutan and in exile. K.B Khadka is one of the many Bhutanese who was killed in a Bhutanese refugee camp. Kipchu Namgyel, who played main role to suppress 1990 demonstrations, killing and disappearing hundreds of demonstrators, is promoted to the supreme post of the police in Bhutan. He was earlier rewarded by promoting from captain of the Crime Branch to the Major General for killing civilians.
There have been gang fights and even murders since the establishment of a refugee camp in Nepal. Tracing the beginning episode of this series of threats and murder in camps it takes me as back as the murder of Surya Subba in 1993. Since then, many refugees have lost their lives in the land where they had come to save it. This is because no proper investigation is carried out for each of these events and criminals are not punished as per the existing laws. The inefficiency of the government of Nepal to maintain a law and order in the camp has led to the several cases of impunity.
The criminal gangs, underground political parties and some refugees with strong muscles have taken the law of the land in hand to terrorise people. Sadly, this is also a result of the rampant lawlessness in Nepal.
People had fled Bhutan to escape prosecution. Violence of any kind cannot be justified inside a refugee camp. It’s the place to wait for the wounds of the body and soul to heal. It’s the place to reunite and plan a way to fight the autocracy their brothers and sisters facing inside Bhutan.
One of the mandates of the UNHCR is to protect the refugees who are vulnerable and likely to lose life if their dire needs are not responded. International protection is a far cry for the Bhutanese refugees due partly to the political fluidity in Nepal and poor knowledge of the UNHCR and the national staffs on the human rights of a refugee.
Its service to them would not go effectively unless the staffers are given enough orientation to deal with the sentiment of a refugee. I have witnessed many cases in which a refugee visiting UNHCR office at Damak in Nepal is verbally abused at the gate. In one occasion, I had even requested a guard at this gate to vacate his post so that another one deserving it, not because of a bribery and nepotism but due to a hard work and sincerity ,would serve refugees better. Some of the national staff s working here look down at a refugees due to their status.
If a refugee is warned of death, the first place he would seek protection is the UNHCR office near his camp. And, a protection officer is there to hear the story, node his head in sympathy and has his own story to tell, ‘We are unsafe too.’ It was a local Nepalese community who sheltered and fed the refugees from Bhutan once they poured in. Unfortunately, these kind-hearted and more responsible people can hardly have any access to a post in these agencies where staffs are often paid salaries at an international scale. Quite a large number of employees working for a refugee project like World Food Program and Lutheran World Federation are not only corrupt but also mistreating refugees in one way or the other. Despite having furnished enough evidences of an irregularity by these officials no one is known to have been prosecuted.
Be it processing a non-refugee in a refugee quota for resettlement or irregularity during re-registration process of the left out refugees, defaulters are even not shacked from their job, let alone probing and punishing them. And, these elements proved to be another menace for those who had collected the courage of evidence and truth to outcry this irregularity. One of the evidences of such menace is the abduction of the then secretary of Beldangi I camp, C.L Thapa by the henchmen of Jaya Narayan Mandal, a national staff who was then a supervisor of Refugee Co-ordination Unit at Chandragadi. Thapa was abducted and threatened to kill simply because he had opposed Mandal’s act of sexually abusing refugee girls. This is also an example where refugees are harassed by the person who is supposed to protect them.
The next place where refugee would seek protection is the police station near respective camps. And, police are often not reliable especially when a threat comes from a high level government officials . Some refugees and locals who are involved in forgeries inside camp are the first to welcome a new squad of police ,who come to substitute old one ,with nuts and beer. Some police personnel stationed for the security of a camp are busy teasing refugee girls on the street.
With the current mindset of the concerned authority, refugees will not be protected against threats. Security gates in camps do not help much until it is realized by the concerned ones that refugees are very sensitive individuals who need humanly treatment.
Writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org