Refugee Resettlement: Is It Being Carried Out Fairly?
The resettlement of an estimated 6,000 refugees in third countries so far is one of the strongest and noteworthy evidences to show that the United State’s offer of Third Country Resettlement (TCR) has finally reached good height.
Not taken seriously in the initial stage, the TCR offer that began in the midst of an insecure atmosphere has attracted more than 50,000 individuals. They have submitted their declaration of interest to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The latest data show that majority of the Bhutanese refugees have shown interest in getting resettled in third countries.
But there have been instances of corruption inside the refugee camps in Jhapa and Morang districts, which have been reported in the media time and again. And there is police suspicion that a racket has been involved in trying to slip non-Bhutanese into the resettlement programme. This is one of the serious concerns of the authorities involved in resettling the Bhutanese refugees of Nepali origin in third countries.
Following the arrest of one Amrita Darjee, 30, a temporary resident of Beldangi-II camp under Sector D/1-16, who confessed to charges of forgery in the resettlement process, the question of infiltration of non-Bhutanese in the resettlement programme has been raised.
Some 100,000 refugees fled Bhutan in the early Nineties to flee suppression by the Bhutanese authorities. These refugees have been living in camps in eastern Nepal since the past 17 years, and the resettlement programme in a third country offers a ray of hope for a better future.
The writer of this piece came across many refugees inside the camps who complained that they were not allowed to re-register until a bribe was issued to the Refugee Coordination Unit (RCU). Many refugees are scared to disclose the reality to media persons about having paid a bribe to the RCU stationed inside the camps.
There are a number of refugees inside the camps who say that even some members of the refugee Registration Team (RT) are refusing to register them. A refugee from Beldangi-II camp, on condition of anonymity, said that he gave Rs. 7,000 to a member of the RT in order to get a refugee status. This is corruption at the highest level since the Registration Team comprises representatives of the UNHCR and Nepal government.
Verification and re-registration of Bhutanese, not registered as refugees earlier, is not moving in a fair and impartial way since officials at the RT are learnt to ask for money. The UNHCR as well as the Government of Nepal should, therefore, look into the ongoing corruption in the TCR programme.
On the other side, the ongoing corruption inside the camps has pushed back vulnerable refugees, since they are not given priority during the resettlement process. As the offer of resettlement is free of cost, the authorities concerned, particularly the UNHCR and Government of Nepal, should be serious towards discouraging such practices inside the camps.
The corrupt officials should not be allowed to go scot free since such incidents will only encourage more of such corruption. It’s certain that the growing corruption in the resettlement programme will derail the TCR programme. And this will only invite frustration in those refugees who are interested in getting resettled in third countries.
Possibilities of fraud cannot be ignored. But genuine Bhutanese refugees should not be denied from resettling in third countries should they meet all the requirements. Sorting out vulnerable refugees is the need of the hour. It is to be noted that already a significant number of refugees, having a sound wealth background, have been resettled in different countries, most of them in the US. But poor vulnerable refugees seem to struggling to be resettled as early as possible. This is a matter of serious concern.
This writer also came across many refugees whose process for resettlement was scuttled by the UNHCR for alleged involvement in Maoist-related activities inside the camps. Investigation of such cases should be carried out in a free, impartial and fair manner to ensure that no innocent refugee becomes a victim. Not only this, the authorities are even learnt to have warned the refugees not to disclose that their process for resettlement had been halted.