An Australian citizen of Bhutanese origin, Parsuram Sharma Luital has raised various issues relating Bhutan and Bhutanese refugees in the 48th Standing Committee Meeting of the UNHCR and Annual Consultations with the NGOs in Geneva from June 22 to July 1.
Sharma, who was selected to represent the Refugee Council of Australia, was scheduled with the responsibilities to advocate on behalf of the refugees and settlement issues of South Asian countries.
According to Sharma, he met the representatives of the seven resettling countries (core group countries) including the United Kingdom which has declared to take refugees in the near future. Luitel on behalf of the Bhutanese refugee community extended message of gratitude and requested them to keep continuity to support the refugees remaining in the camps.
Meanwhile, Sharma raised the issues of unregistered refugees in Nepal and India, family reunion, concerns of single mothers and widows languishing in refugee camps and some resettling countries, provision of visa issuance to resettled refugees for traveling between the resettling countries, help the repatriation process of the Bhutanese refugees who choose to return back to Bhutan.
The Netherlands delegates informed that the core group countries were updated on the current situation of refugee camps. A briefing was made by delegate from the US who had recently visited the camps in Nepal.
In the second week of the meeting, Sharma met with different senior level UNHCR officials including Pascale Moreau, Deputy Director, Bureau for Asia and the Pacific, and senior desk officer Karim Amer responsible for Bhutan and other officials responsible for other Asian countries. Sharma also raised the issue of unregistered refugees in Nepal (around 1,500) and India (around 25,000) as one of the main concerns.
Sharma also strongly raised the issue of family re-union, single mothers and widows, the inaccessibility of “marginalized” refugees to approach the UNHCR Sub Office Damak in Jhapa, Nepal, among others.
Sharma further informed BNS that the concerns of the silent Internally Displaced People (IDPs) inside Bhutan and Rohinga refugees from the Arakan state in Myanmar were discussed, both in the main thematic sessions and separate meetings with the senior UNHCR officials. The meeting also discussed with top priority about the plight of 81,000 Bhutanese inside Bhutan, many of whom are displaced from their original homes and lands and are stateless without any legal rights.
The director of Human Rights Watch Bill Frelick said in the meeting that there are 82,000 Bhutanese inside Bhutan who are stateless. He further said that this issue is a blind spot for UNHCR for so long and this needs to be addressed.
Sharma also discussed the difficulties faced by the former political prisoners of Bhutan, who were released after several years of imprisonment to get registered with UNHCR and join the family members for resettlement with Monica Zanarelli, Deputy Head of operations for South Asia, ICRC, HQ in Geneva. In response, Zanarelli has assured all possible help, including issuance of lesser passer if there is problem to obtain travel document, given that a host country is willing to settle the concerned refugees.
A key member of the Australian delegation, Paul Power, CEO, Refugee Council of Australia has stressed to explore all possible means to resettle the political prisoners. He has suggested to raise the issue with the UNHCR separately (which was arranged and discussed), delegates from the core group of countries in the tri-partite meeting starting July 6.
According to Sharma, the senior most UNHCR officials were very supportive of the issues raised and to address them for the benefit of the Bhutanese refugees. As per the official, the Bhutanese refugee issue has been the largest UNHCR resettlement operations in the world in 2009 where the largest numbers of refugees were resettled, followed by refugees from Myanmar. Sharma was also selected as a penal speaker on ‘Violence Against Women’ in one of the sessions in the meeting.
Reported by Tejman Rayaka Monger, Munich, Germany for BNS