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Third Country Resettlement : How Durable For The Refugees?

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Finally, the America’s offer of third country resettlement has given rise to a lot of debate. Despite several attempts by the refugees to oppose it, the US and some western countries seem committed to expediting the process of resettlement latest by early 2008.

Besides the formation of a core group comprising 14 of the world’s biggest democratic countries, the Overseas Processing Entity (OPE), one of the latest concepts in backing up the process of third country resettlement, is planning to set up its office at Jhapa and in Kathmandu in July.

This very information was revealed by two senior US officials, Lawrence Barlett and Janice S. Belz – assistant directors of the Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration of the U.S. government – during their interaction with the refugees at Goldhap camp on April 25.

Since the time when the third country resettlement package was brought up, it provoked factions among the refugees – individual opinions can be distinctly seen divided into different groups.
Literate youths among the Bhutanese refugees favor third country resettlement. The other elderly, illiterate groups want to get repatriated as they say they have worked hard and sweated a lot to bring Bhutan into its present state.

Not only this, a section of the people living inside the refugee camps have already obtained Nepalese citizenship certificates. They were able to obtain Nepali citizenship after the government of Nepal decided to issue citizenship certificates to four million people prior to the constituent assembly (CA) polls. This ironically leaves a clear message that a portion of the refugees are even willing to get locally assimilated.

Meanwhile, it is still a matter of doubt whether those refugees, who have already obtained Nepalese citizenship certificates, would qualify for third country resettlement. More interestingly, this verity would also be a tool for creating internal divergence among the refugees if those, who have already possessed Nepalese citizenship identity card, get a chance to opt for resettlement prior to those without citizenship cards.

Majority of the so-called frontline leaders in exile, most of the political and a few apolitical organizations have been frequently opposing the offer of third country resettlement, claiming it would not help furnish complete justice to the suppressed Bhutanese people. Since there is divided opinion among the individuals, the question of reaching a common consensus is difficult. People inside the camps are quite confused and do not know whether to apply in advance for this offer as they are little informed of its procedures.

When such fact-based points are fresh at hand, opening the ‘single option’ for refugees would be a bleak step. Not only third country resettlement, the concerned authorities should work towards unlocking all possible options, including repatriation to their original homeland, Bhutan. The long-standing issue will get a safe landing only when all possible options are opened.

Criteria and procedures
The obvious question at this hour is: why are those countries that are wishing to resettle the refugees not making transparent all the criteria and other necessary procedures before the resettlement process begins? At least a dozen refugee families have already been resettled in Canada in the recent months, but the authorities concerned haven’t yet made their status public.

On the other side, the UNHCR is reportedly learnt to have been selecting families in the camps in recent days to begin the process for third country resettlement. However, it has refused to reveal the criteria for their selection. Actually, why can’t such steps be carried out in an open and transparent way?

The refugees should not be deprived of their basic human right to access to adequate information on any options coined. And, this should be more precisely done in a transparent way.

Meanwhile, it is equally necessary to note that any options, what they be, shouldn’t be made a ‘compulsory option’ for the refugees by citing unfeasibility of other possible options.

Even Nepal has flashed a green light for allowing these refugees to get resettled. If Nepal by doing so wants to eliminate the Bhutanese refugee problem from the country, then it must be mentioned here that dignified repatriation should also be promoted at any cost. Otherwise, what would be the future of those refugees who want to get repatriated? Thus, it is a matter of essence that Nepal publicise its official stance at the earliest to bar ideological divergence among the refugees.

It is a fact that options besides third country resettlement – dignified repatriation and local integration – are, with the flow of time, getting less prominence. If the authorities concerned are truly committed to finding a durable solution to the Bhutanese refugee stalemate and embracing and supporting them, then promoting the refugee’s sentiment is a must.


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