The last issue of the ACHR WEEKLY REVIEW titled “Communists in Bhutan ? The contribution of the US, UNHCR, India and et all” of 16 May 2007 evoked sharp comments from refugee leaders, NGOs and officials.
In this issue of ACHR WEEKLY REVIEW, Asian Centre for Human Rights clarifies the proposed resettlement programmes of the Core Working Group on Bhutanese Refugees in Nepal and reaffirms its recommendations for resolution of the Bhutanese refugee crisis.
1. The United States reaffirms solution for all Bhutanese refugees
Following the ACHR WEEKLY REVIEW “Communists in Bhutan ? The contribution of the US, UNHCR, India and et all”, the officials of the United States' State Department clarified to the Asian Centre for Human Rights that the “Core Working Group on Bhutanese Refugees in Nepal” is committed to find “a comprehensive and sustainable resolution” for each and every Bhutanese refugee sheltered in Nepal. There are approximately 1,08,000 Bhutanese refugees registered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in seven camps in eastern Nepal. The Core Working Group has been considering resettlement in third countries, return to Bhutan and reintegration in Nepal as the options for resolution of the Bhutanese refugee crisis.
While the United States has announced that it would resettle approximately 60,000 refugees, other members of the Core Working Group consisting of Australia, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Norway have also expressed their desire to take their share of refugees. Canada has already announced that it plans to resettle 5,000 refugees. The United States has further indicated to Asian Centre for Human Rights about its commitment to continue the resettlement program until all refugees who are interested in resettlement are considered for the program, no matter if that number exceeds 60,000.
Asian Centre for Human Rights welcomes the clarification that Core Working Group is committed to finding a solution for each and every refugee and that all the camps will eventually be closed down. The reported proposal of resettlement of only 60,000 refugees in the United States has created the wrong impression that about 48,000 refugees will be left high and dry – a concern shared by Asian Centre for Human Rights. Moreover, the resettlement is not a United States' initiative but of a number of countries which are interested to find solution to the vexed issue.
Asian Centre for Human Rights welcomes the initiative of the Core Working Group on Bhutanese Refugees in Nepal but the Core Working Group must address the following issues:
i. No hasty resettlement: First obtain a written commitment from Bhutan
The Core Working Group on Bhutanese Refugees in Nepal in its Joint Communiqué of 16 May 2007 stated that it is “committed to working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the Royal Government of Bhutan and the Government of Nepal towards a comprehensive and sustainable solution for this refugee population that best meets the individual needs of the refugees”.
In the Joint Communiqué, the Core Working Group also expressed appreciation of the socalled “stated commitment of the Royal Government of Bhutan to find a just and durable solution” to the situation of the refugees in the camps. In 2003, Bhutan reportedly agreed to take a certain number of refugees.
However, Bhutan has so far failed to provide any written commitment to take back the refugees who have proven their citizenship even under its discriminatory laws. Out of the seven refugee camps, joint verification was conducted only in one refugee camp. The Core Working Group must impress upon the Royal Government of Bhutan that it is the best opportunity and in the interest of Bhutan to accept the refugees who have proven their citizenship. Without a written commitment, there is no guarantee that Bhutan will take back its nationals.
It would be incongruous if the Core Working Group were to fail to prevail upon Royal Government of Bhutan to accept its nationals who are able to prove their nationality. The international community must be mindful of the implications of any resettlement process without any written commitment from Bhutan. It would tantamount to supporting ethnic cleansing policies of the Royal Government of Bhutan. If Bhutan can get away with 1,08,000 refugees, it would further make conditions of the remaining ethnic Nepalis in Bhutan untenable to force them to denounce their citizenships or discreetly leave Bhutan. Bhutan, which has perfected the art of repression, need not expel the ethnic Nepalis en masse but it can somehow force them to leave Bhutan. These measures against the ethnic Nepalis would also further worsen the conditions of the ethnic Sarchops in eastern Bhutan.
ii. Obtain a written commitment from Nepal for integration
There are also refugees who might prefer to integrate in Nepal. There has also been no official commitment from the Government of Nepal with regard to this issue. The Core Working Group must also seek a written assurance from the Government of Nepal to allow a number of refugees, perhaps those with family ties, to integrate locally while the Core Working Group should spell out the assistance it would provide for local integration.
Given that the refugees have spent 17 years in the camps without any solution in sight, it is regrettable that the only offer on the table is that of resettlement. The international community should continue to push Bhutan to repatriate all its nationals who are able to prove their nationality while Nepal should come forward with a similar offer to integrate some refugees. Ultimately, each and every refugee should have the right to choose their own future.
"We encourage the governments of Bhutan and Nepal to continue to work together with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to fulfill their commitment to find a comprehensive and lasting solution to the situation." – stated Honourable Peter MacKay, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.
However, in the last 17 years, Nepal, Bhutan and UNHCR failed to find a comprehensive and lasting solution. The members of the Core Working Group on Bhutanese Refugees in Nepal must realize that since they are providing solutions, they have to prevail over Bhutan.
Bhutan should act upon its commitments to repatriate its nationals. Ideally, this should happen before the start of any screening for resettlement in third countries. If Bhutan does not take this opportunity, the Communist Party of Bhutan (Marxists-Leninists-Maoists) may hinder the process of resettlement. This will certainly not be in the interest of Bhutan, especially if the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists) comes to power in Kathmandu after the elections.