Justice hasn’t been served to refugees: Bhampa Rai

Bhutanese Refugee Repatriation Committee (BRRRC) was formed as a representative body with an aim to advocate for the repatriation of refugees. Since its formation in 1998 it has been reaching to all concerned stakeholders of Bhutanese refugee repatriation program.

In an email interview with BNS, Dr. Bhampa Rai, Chairman of BRRRC and  ardent supporter of repatriation told BNS that the justice has not been served to refugees who are genuinely categorized as Bhutanese and willing to return.

BNS: Can you explain the relevance of BRRRC’s existence at this point of time, when majority of refugees are resettled in western countries?  

Dr. Rai: Bhutanese Refugee Repatriation Committee (BRRRC) was formed as a representative body with an aim to advocate for the repatriation of refugees. It is an apolitical forum. Since its formation in 1998 it has been reaching to all concerned stakeholders of Bhutanese refugee repatriation program. And, its mission continues till the last genuine Bhutanese gets the fair justice- right to return.

BNS: UNHCR has continued to cut the basic ration supply to exert pressure on refugees.  Will this motivate more people to move away from the camps and fend for themselves?

Dr. Rai: By keeping refugees starved UNHCR is in fact pressurizing the government of Nepal that failed to negotiate with Bhutan to the end of accepting genuine Bhutanese back.  Nepal’s diplomatic failure compelled refugees to seek for alternatives, though against their own rights and choice. Today, the refugees are living the most difficult days in their life. Donor fatigue is hard to believe as these donors are continuously supporting the perpetrating governments that produce refugees in the world.

But we believe it to be immoral excuse for assimilating remaining refugees in Nepal while the impunity for those perpetrators is being served. Such injustice meted out to these Bhutanese refugees will never be forgotten for generations.

BNS: We have learned that UNHCR started giving cash support to the refugees. Why this cash assistance?  Are there certain families to get cash or it is every family qualifying to receive cash assistance?

Dr. Rai:The cash support to all refugees in the camps by UNHCR is not implemented yet as majority of the refugees didn’t approve this proposal.

BNS: You have taken the lead to petition the UNHCR head in Geneva and also wrote to Nepalese authority in Jhapa to continue the ration supply. What action in response you expect from them?

Dr. Rai: Yes, we sent a letter to Secretary General of United Nations, in New York and government of Nepal appealing for helping us for our early repatriation to Bhutan by urging international community and to continue humanitarian aid until we live in the camps, in Nepal. We appeal UN and all the international forums to use their respective diplomatic channels to ask Bhutan to repatriate its, once, illogically evicted genuine citizens without displaying any more fabricated stories against those victims. And, Nepal as the host country should take immediate effective steps for the return of those genuine Bhutanese, so identified by Joint Verification Team (JVT).

BNS: Do you know when they are going to declare the closing of camps?  In that event, what will be the role of BRRRC?  

Dr. Rai: We don’t know about the exact dateline about the closing down of the camps, but UNHCR wants to close the camps as soon as possible. We too never wanted to live in camps and be an international burden if we are helped repatriated to our home-stead, in Bhutan at the soonest possible. Even after the closure of the camps those refugees, who are determined for their rights to return, will continue to carry on this struggle infinitely through BRRRC.

BNS: Remittance to Nepal has increased so much after resettlement of refugees. What is the impact of this unaccounted remittance in local economy?

Dr. Rai: It is an exception and never a solution. Very few refugees get remittance from their dear and near ones and it will be a mistake to count everyone. The people who are receiving remittance are using it for their family maintenance, medical treatments, food and partly supporting education for their children. One must not imagine running a refugee community by such sporadic remittance.

BNS: In your professional career, you have served the refugees and local people in Nepal often free of charge. Has that service been rewarded? How do you feel about being almost desolated?

Dr. Rai:  I believe, in such hours of need we serve each other and assist with what we can to make our lives safer and easier. On seeing the pathetic condition of our mass evicted Bhutanese, I decided to come out of the country to join them and constantly trying to heal the wounds and cracks created by our own ruler. Besides examining my refugee community free of charges, as a professional physician, I am playing my role to listen their histories of grievous sufferings inflicted by our ruler prior to eviction and letting international community know the same with a hope for due justice to all those innocent victims. I have committed myself to do so till this problem finds a dignified solution. I anticipate continued support from other friends living in other countries. And, I am not going to get tired till I see the suffering friends get due justice.

BNS: What you have to say to all rights groups and resettling countries, at last?

Dr. Rai: At the beginning, numerous rights groups came to report, study on Bhutanese refugees and did their job. These groups held many meetings, talk programs and seminars on refugees and gave much solace of reinstating our taken away rights;  but, as the time passed by those groups gradually disappeared and almost not traceable now. We feel such easily getting defeated rights groups are of no help in time real need.

We are always true to being bona-fide Bhutanese citizens and there must not be further question about our nationality, although malevolently the perpetrator, Bhutan shamelessly claims us being otherwise. The world must not forget that the Government of Nepal, UNHCR, and the Core Group countries have accepted us to be genuine Bhutanese after scrutinizing in person and per valid documents. Even the JVT received valid documents issued by the Govt. of Bhutan from 90% of the refugees whereas 10% of them had lost their documents in Bhutan prior to their eviction.

Bhutan has added a shameful chapter in her history by generating one-sixth of the population as refugees, for just because they demanded for universally accepted fundamental rights.

We are highly grateful to those resettling countries which truly felt about our feelings of desperation from all corners and resettled more than one hundred thousand of our Bhutanese for their safer living. In the meantime, the Core Group countries should remember the words of Bhutan’s proposal of ‘burden sharing’ about which Bhutan is pretending to forget. Bhutan has not only created this overwhelming humanitarian problem to its mass citizens but to international community too, so it is the prime responsibility of the Bhutanese government to resolve it sincerely.