Bhutan News Service

Open letter to Stephane Jaquemet

Date: August 10, 2010

The UNHCR country representative in Nepal
Mr. Stephane Jaquemet

Subject: Earnest plea over genuine concernsDear Stephane,
I hope you are keeping well. Congratulations to your esteemed agency for becoming successful to resettle 30,000+ Bhutanese refugees in various western countries in a short span of time. Indeed, this is one of the greatest achievements, for which the UNHCR should be doubtlessly eulogized. A majority of resettled Bhutanese have started to live up with a new hope, new dreams, and a new life—the progress for which is yet to be seen. It was very pleasurable to go through your interview in the official website of Bhutan News Service (BNS), our community’s most popular and trusted news portal. I believe that the audiences were updated with much useful information through the interview; thanks to both the interviewer and the interviewee.

Bhutanese refugees in fact feel themselves lucky and are grateful to your esteemed agency and your implementing partners for the continued support since the establishment of refugee camps. At times, when refugees were struggling for the food and shelter, the entry of UNHCR in their care was kind of great fortune for them, which to some extend, helped them to relieve the pain of eviction from their mother land. The humanitarian efforts rendered by the agencies to meet the basic needs of refugees have remained praiseworthy and shall remain at all times.

After nearly two decades of stay in UNHCR-administered camps, the process of third country resettlement began especially at a time when there was unfeasibility of immediate return home program. Amidst all these developments, the UNHCR continued to vow the protection and nourishment of refugee and promised publicly that it won’t withdraw its support to those who do not wish to opt for the offer of third country resettlement. Despite the UNHCR’s commitments, the situation in camps seems dwindling each day. Before I actually enter into the core message of this open letter, let me make you aware that still a portion of refugees do not want to opt for resettlement. This portion includes those who wish either to continue staying in camps or wait for dignified repatriation.

There are basically three major problems blanketing the lives of refugees remaining in camps. In sum-up, degrading education system has greeted a strong sense of frustrations on parents, the fragile security management has really left rooms to doubt as to if refugee camps are safe places to dwell. Above all, the degrading health facilities and negligence of AMDA-Nepal, in particular, as reported in the media and as per the say of camp residents, is gradually leading the deaths of normal patients.

Of late, instances of allegation on AMDA for its negligence have been pouring in. In a month’s time, the relatives of two youths—Ganga Tiwari, 17, from Khudunabari and Rupa Subba, 28, from Beldangi-I camp, have publicly alleged the AMDA-Nepal for its negligence during the treatment of those young lives. There are many rooms to believe AMDA’s laxity, for instance, your tenure at the UNHCR office in Kathmandu began not that long time and there already existed dozens of such negligence-related death cases in the past years.  Often the referral cases of seriously ill patients are delayed and denied. As a result, patients are forced to the mouth of untimely death.

In the interview with BNS, you have clearly mentioned that every one in the refugee camps should have access to medical treatment. The ground reality, however, is a little different. On the other hand, some refugees are losing their lives at young age due to lack of proper medical treatment on the right time and has become ‘fall-guy’ of curable ailment. The way AMDA has rendered its service for such a long time in the medical sector in camps perhaps is commendable. However, the growing concern that ‘AMDA started to pose negligence’ is quite serious and attention seeking. Relatives of late Ganga Tiwari have clearly spelt-out the name of the doctor because of whose negligence Tiwari is said to have lost her life.

Just some weeks after Tiwari’s death, the family members and relatives of late Subba have claimed that she died due to delay in referral to better health centers. Subba is said to have lost her life due to “high doze injection”, in relatives’ own words. If what the victims’ claims were true, it is of course sad to see concerned agencies including the UNHCR maintaining meaningful silence. It is time that your agency takes special measures to probe into the incident to improve health system in camps so that ‘every one in the refugee camps will have access to medical treatment’.

I am clear that it might look doing injustice to your agency but if the same situation continues, for sure it will be read otherwise—the UNHCR and its implementing partners are compelling the refugees to opt for the third country resettlement. It is certain that the souls of the deceased will continue to curse concerned ones involved in the negligence during their treatment. They should not be led free. UNHCR, though has its own working mandate/principle, can still play crucial role to improve its implementing partner’s weaknesses. On one hand,  you are publicly making commitments to continue the humanitarian support to those who do not wish to get resettled until they remain in camps and on the other hand, refugees in the camps are dying of minor diseases due to lack of proper treatment on time.

While comparing with other thing, health is very significant and obviously it comes first; thus, I believe that now the UNHCR will take necessary measures to improve health systems in camps. Let us not hear the news of untimely deaths of more Gangas and Rupas in the future. With sincerity, I hope to see the improvement of health systems in camps, if not a respond to this open letter.

Thanks to the UNHCR and other implementing partners for their selfless service to Bhutanese refugee community in Nepal.

Khem Khadka
North Carolina, USA

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