Chief District Officer of Jhapa district, Sashi Shekar Shrestha, said the third country resettlement has contributed to some extend in effective management of the camps as the population is reduced by one-third. According to him, even livelihood in camps has increased. Shrestha expressed that more economic activities are fostering along with the resettlement. However, he is of the opinion that keeping all seven camps with little population will be problematic in long run. He said discussion on merging camps into one or two for their effective management is underway. In an interview with Vidhyapati Mishra of Bhutan News Service, CDO shrestha said, registration of those Bhutanese who have been waiting to acquire ‘refugee status’ would take time as the government lacks required polices. Excerpts:
BNS: As the Chief District Officer, how have you taken this issue?
This issue has been a problem for Nepal for almost two decades. Not a single refugee has been able to return to Bhutan so far. The Government of Nepal monitors the refugee camps which are managed by various agencies included the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). With start of the third country resettlement program, a large number of refugees have left for resettlement in various western countries. Thousands of them are waiting to go.
BNS : What do you say regarding security of refugees in camps considering past reports of use of weapons or killings inside the camps?
We have been monitoring these camps from the time they were set-up. We have deployed Armed Police Forces in each camp for the security of refugees. However, viewing the large population in congested places, social crimes are natural. But, it doesn’t mean that we are not serious in controlling them. As refugees have to stay in camps as per the government’s rules, some serious crimes occurred in the past. But, those incidents must not be viewed to term our security measures as feeble. And, we are always serious in enforcing existing laws against those refugees who breach these laws.
BNS : Means you don’t accept that life of a refugee in camp is insecure?
Not at all. It is not wise to take the situation in this manner.
BNS : Over 37000 Bhutanese have left for resettlement so far. Has their resettlement helped the government or agencies in camp management?
I must accept this fact. Their resettlement has contributed to some extend in effective management of the camps as the population is reduced by one-third. Even livelihood in camps has increased. More economic activities are fostering along with the resettlement. However, keeping all seven camps with little population will be problematic for us in long run. So, we are also discussing to merge camps for their effective management. I hope, this will begin from 2012 when the resettlement takes a giant leap. UNHCR and International Organization for Migration have been saying that by this time, more than 45,000 refugees will fly to various countries for resettlement. But, along with their resettlement, the host community will lose several things including economic ties and refugee-host community relation, among others. We are also discussion these issues with refugee-aid agencies.
BNS : What do you say regarding registration of pending cases?
This is to be decided by the central level. There are different cases which have drawn our attention. Even we have not yet decided to issue refugee identity cards to those who have reached 16. Some fresh Bhutanese, like those who were recently released from Bhutanese jails, have tried for getting registered. And, the third group of people is those who went out of camps for years and currently they have returned back. I am confident of the first type that their ID cards will be issued. Rest two groups are bit complicated ones considering the largest ongoing resettlement program. Their registrations process will become easier once the government formulates suitable policies for their enrollment into a refugee status. The administration has notified the Ministry of Home Affairs and the rest depends on what the Ministry decides.
BNS : While breaking the hunger strike of the agitating Bhutanese demanding refugee status, there was a three-point deal with the government in July. You had assured them that registration would begin at the earliest.
I am not saying that they were not assured. But, the decision has to be made at the Ministry and nothing can be done from here.
BNS : This means it will be only after the formation of new government.
Of course, there are such possibilities. As we have caretaker government at present, I believe there has been so delay in policy formation. Even the UNHCR has been coordinating with the GoN in this regard.
BNS : There are assumptions that the figure is significantly higher. What is the exact figure that requires registration?
It is natural that even non-refugees try to get registered as an attractive resettlement package is going on. But, the actual number requiring status is not much high as reported in various media. If we register all such people, the registration process will never end. When the resettlement is proceeding in one hand, there must be some very good measures to filter such people, which we have.
BNS : When will it begin actually?
I am certain that the registration of these people will begin very soon. It is under the process at the Ministry. I hope, something positive would come out very soon.