In the 54th UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) Standing Committee meeting held from June 26-28 in Geneva, the core group of countries have made their individual statements with regards to Bhutanese refugee issue.
One of the outcomes of the meeting has been finding a durable solution of the tw0-decade-long protracted refugee imbroglio, thanks to the efforts of international community.
“The core group members’ statements included Bhutanese issues on ongoing resettlement, Community Based Development Programs in Nepal for people who will not choose to be resettled in the third countries and voluntary repatriation of the willing refugees to Bhutan unconditionally,” said Parsuram Sharma – Luitel, who has been attending the meeting.
He told the Bhutan News Service from Geneva that the United States has said, “We note f that more than 65000 refugees from Bhutan living in Nepal have resettled to date, and the United States will continue to consider new UNHCR referrals.”
The U.S also appreciated Nepal’s generosity in hosting the refugees for more than 20 years and encourage the Government of Nepal to support the efforts of the Community Based Development Program (CBDP). It has also encouraged the Government of Bhutan to accept the unconditional voluntary repatriation of Bhutanese refugee cases based on humanitarian considerations.
Meanwhile, Canada announced the additional 500 refugees to resettle on top of the 5000 they have initially committed. The additional 500 will be mainly families of already resettled refugees that would be completed in 2012.
While, the UNHCR made updated statement to the meeting on Bhutanese refugee resettlement issues in line with the core group of countries and stressed on voluntary repatriation of the persons willing to return to Bhutan.
Rachael Reilly, who is a delegate from the Women’s Refugee Commission, stated that the issue of Bhutanese refugee has been raised by so many states this year that was not the case in the past.
Rachael has worked in Nepal very closely with Bhutanese refugees and is well versed with the senior leadership in Bhutanese circle, particularly Bhutanese refugee women.
Responding to a BNS query, Luitel opined that people in the refugee camp in Nepal, who have not yet expressed interest for resettlement, should do so without delay as there are no clear directions as to what will happen after 2015 to the remaining refugees.
“By saying this, I have no intention to discourage the voluntary repatriation. I just want to say that it is time for every refugee in the camp to make a fair decision for seeing a difference in life,” clarified Luitel.
According to Luitel, Bhutanese leaders in Nepal should create a platform for provide the right information to the innocent people who are not able to make their judgment and encourage them for third country resettlement so that they no more have to lead uncertain life in the refugee camps.
“Every body knows that a majority of the resettled fellow-mates have already started living secure and decent lives abroad.”
Luitel is representing the UNHCR Standing Committee Meeting and the annual NGO consultation as a Chairperson of the New and Emerging Communities of the Federation of Ethnic Communities Council of Australia and delegate of the Refugee Council of Australia’s community representative.
Apart from the main meetings, he is also scheduled to call on rapporteurs from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on violence against women and on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.
“My other appointments along with Australian delegation include side meetings with the senior officials from the UNHCR Asia Bureau and others,” added he.
Nepal refutes local integration
The Permanent Representative of Nepal to the United Nations in Geneva, Shanker D Bairagi, told the UNHCR officials and representatives of core group in Geneva that Nepal has been housing Bhutanese refugees on the humanitarian basis, and doesn’t support local integration.
The Ambassador, who remembered to thank the UNHCR and international community for providing support for last 20 years to the Bhutanese refugees, said he was not happy to listen at a presentation made by UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner Erika Feller where she highlighted a specific reference in connection to local settlement of Bhutanese refugees in Nepal.
“The international community is aware that Nepal has been providing shelter to the Bhutanese refugees for over 20 years on the humanitarian grounds. It has been our principled position that voluntary repatriation of the refugees to their homeland with dignity and honour is the only lasting solution and we remain committed to this. Local settlement has never been an option to us. This notion is not acceptable to us. There should not be any ambiguity on this,” Luitel quoted the Nepalese Ambassador as clarifying.
Ambassador Bairagi further said that in line with its principled position, Nepal strongly opposes the notion of local settlement of the Bhutanese refugees in Nepal.
“We refute the reference to local settlement as contained in the statement of the Assistant High Commissioner in respect of the Bhutanese refugees in Nepal.”