Repatriation still a far cry

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In March 2012, one of the former parliamentarians occupying a key position in Bhutan’s National Assembly (NA) had said repatriation of exiled Bhutanese was no longer possible.

He was the Opposition Leader during the Prime Minister Jigmi Y Thinley’s government. And, he is none other than the fresh elected country’s second Prime Minister, Tshering Tobgay.

At a time when over 10,000 of genuine Bhutanese in exile are desperately awaiting dignified return to their hometowns, we can have a flash back of PM Tobgay’s interview carried by the Bhutan Today last year. Is Tobgay ready to re-define his “childish” opinion on repatriation during his five-years-long tenure?

What is your overall view on the issue?
I don’t understand how the prime minister can even consider repatriation. In 2001 the Bhutanese and Nepalese governments began a joint verification of the people in Khudunabari camp. That verification process came to an abrupt end after the Bhutanese team was attacked and beaten up violently in 2003, just before they completed the joint verification of the people in Khudunabari camp. The joint verification process did not resume after that unfortunate incident. Therefore, I don’t see on what basis, on what criteria, the prime minister could even consider repatriating people.

PM Tshering Tobgay
PM Tshering Tobgay

Does PDP support repatriation?
No. Repatriation is no longer possible. Repatriation of some people was a genuine possibility 10 years ago, but even then, only if the verification process was honest and complete. That didn’t happen. Now it’s more than 20 years since people settled in the camps, plus most of them have opted to resettle in third countries. If repatriation was not possible 10 years ago, in spite of the best efforts of the governments of Bhutan and Nepal, I don’t see how the prime minister can even talk about it as a possibility now.

At a time when most of the camp people have accepted resettlement in third countries, some observers feel that the prime minister should not have spoken that the government “will bring” some of the people back as the PM’s speech might disturb the resettlement programme in third countries. Please comment.
I fail to see the logic in the prime minister’s statement. How can he commit to repatriate people if we now don’t have any basis of even identifying whether a person is a genuine Bhutanese or not.

What is the best solution according to you?
I am grateful for, and support resettlement in third countries, especially since the people in the camps themselves prefer to settle in third countries. In addition, I strongly support honest dialogue between the governments of Bhutan and Nepal to consider workable ways of bringing closure to this difficult problem.