Open letter to Nepalese president

Published on Apr 17 2011 // Opinion
By Dr Bhampa Rai

I have the honour to address this letter to you on behalf of the Bhutanese forced by the government to live in exile as refugees for close to two decades now in Nepal and elsewhere. I hope you would not regard this letter as an unwanted intrusion in your busy official and private engagements, but show it the concern it deserves.

Much has been written and said about why and how our problem started. They are on record as a matter of fact and need no reiteration. The whole problem is a consequence of the misguided but deliberate national policy of the Government of Bhutan (GoB) at ethnic purification of a multi-racial, multi-cultural and multi-linguist nation. Given the reality of your long and active public life, I am aware that this issue is both within your knowledge and familiarity. So repeating the facts of the situation near the beginning would both be presumptuous on my par and a waste of your valuable time.

The whole process of negotiation between the two governments to resolve the issue is also well documented. How even after the joint verification of refugees and as agreed by the two governments Bhutan brazenly walked out of the process to avoid taking back its citizens is a matter of record too. The action by the Bhutanese authority not only betrayed the Bhutanese nationals but also made a blatant mockery of the position of the Government of Nepal (GoN) and all established international norms including human rights and civil liberty. Even today, however unfortunate, the reality is that these citizens per force continue to live as refugees in the UN-sponsored camps in the eastern Nepal.

In more recent times, I am sure you are aware that Bhutan has charmed the international community with its Shangri-La image to get its citizens in the camps settled in various third countries. Some major countries have come forward to resettle the refugees in their countries, and this process, in fact, has long begun. While this fully exposes the intention of the GoB to see its forcefully evicted citizens resettled anywhere in the world but none to be repatriated, it also demonstrates the callous disregard by the international community of the human rights of the refugees undermining their right to return to their own country, ignoring the fact that refugees have right to return to their country of origin as secured by the international law.

We are not against the real sentiment of the ongoing third country resettlement per se but we believe that this option of the resettlement should have been activated simultaneously with an alternative such as the repatriation of the refugees to Bhutan. And, the whole truth of the matter is that all the refugees do not want the third country resettlement. Many are for repatriation to their own homes in Bhutan. What was most disheartening for us was that this initiative was put into effect without the general consent of the refugees, particularly those who had worked to settle them in camps in coordination with the GoN and other aid organizations including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Even more painful is the reality that some international agencies based in Damak are strongly and openly giving a push to the idea by actively campaigning and motivating the refugees for the third country resettlement. The third country resettlement option has today become a fait accompli for the refugees given its “take it or leave it nature”. It was never an option, in fact, in the absence of other alternatives. It seems rather compulsory than voluntary as stated. Repatriation is all but forgotten. It is not hard to find a significant number of refugee families separated and left heart-broken because of the resettlement program. Those who were just homeless have become people of nowhere due to resettlement since there exists no nation for these people. It has only worsened their situation.

In such a state of affairs, we strongly believe that it is the responsibility of the rational thinking people in all walks of life and in particular those in power to defend the right of innocent refugees and guard them from the implementation of the third country resettlement. It is in this light that I take this opportunity to request you to use your position of the high office to review and appraise the refugees issue and act to set in the motion the process of repatriation allowing the unjustly displaced Bhutanese citizens wanting to go back to their original homes to return and live in peace and harmony.

Please accept the assurances of my highest considerations.

(This is an open letter addressed to President of Nepal, Dr Ram Baran Yadav, by Chairman of the Bhutanese Refugee Representative Repatriation Committee, Dr Bhampa Rai, requesting the former to ask the Government of Nepal to repatriate Bhutanese refugees to Bhutan. The President alerted Prime Minister Jhala Nath Khanal and the Council of Ministers on March 24, 2011 for the needful action. )