Resettlement of Bhutanese refugees took an unprecedented turn when one hundred thousand Bhutanese refugees got resettled in eight countries, US being the largest receiver.
Despite this fact of ‘successful resettlement’, UNHCR in Nepal has issues pending resettlement, particularly of those families who are separated and those who wish repatriation, albeit minimal.
In order to give a sort of ultimatum, UNHCR has alerted refugees of imminent closure of resettlement process in a bulletin issued 18 August, 2016. According to the bulletin nailed at information boards of refugee camps, the purpose of the information is to announce the phasing out of resettlement by 2017.
While it has clearly outlined the effort by UNHCR to allow as much time and flexibility for the refugees to apply for resettlement, it does not say about what will happen to those seeking repatriation.
According to one firsthand account of a camp resident BNS received, there is a kind of apathy towards the lone elderly folks whose family members have chosen resettlement. They are already vulnerable, and their hope for repatriation is still grim; the advocacy groups for repatriation themselves facing setbacks.
The issue of divorcees, who are either registered refugees, Nepalese or Indian citizen, is nowhere considered in the bulletin. The UNHCR field workers held meetings at sector level, discussed with people about the opportunity of resettlement that many refugees around the world are not able to get, but do not have any handy solution for people’s cases like this. According to a source, many such divorcees, especially the men, have moved closer to camps, hoping to take chance of resettlement.
People who were reported ‘missing’ by the family members to clear their resettlement process, are now back to the camp, falling outside the bracket of resettlement process. There is no talk about such ‘missing’ persons.
One interesting fact BNS could reveal from this account is the arrival of fresh refugees, either directly from Bhutan or from India, particularly those who fled after 1997 protest in eastern Bhutan. Some of their family members who had registered in camps earlier are resettled in the US.
Another category of people are the absentees from camp, even during the three vital censuses that determined the refugee status. Their case is ‘de-registered’ in RCU data because of long absence. The UNHCR bulletin does not mention about their fate.
This source also mentions about a section of voiceless people who do not find right place to tell their story and know how to do about it. They find no one to advocate for them, nor they see right person to approach their case. They say, ‘we have no money to spend.’
Meanwhile, fresh report from Kathmandu received by BNS mentions of a group of ten people from camps currently in Kathmandu to lobby the Home Ministry on behalf of census absentees. They met the Home Minister of Nepal at his residence and requested for considering the absentees for refugee ID cards.
In a news report published in Kantipur, September 3, US urged Nepal to assimilate the remaining refugees, which according to the news, is turned down by Nepal. In a meeting with foreign minister Dr. Prakash Sharan Mahat, US Assistant Secretary of State, Nisha Desai Bishwal urged the government of Nepal to ‘keep the remaining refugees’ after the end of resettlement process. Nepal has been reiterating that they must be returned to Bhutan, whatever number, and that Bhutan must accept its citizen.
The UNHCR has announced in the bulletin that it will not accept any application for resettlement after December 31, 2016.
Dr. Govinda Rizal from Nepal partially contributed to this report-Editor