Thursday, October 16, 2008
Third-country resettlement of Bhutanese refugees to increase
More than 1,400 Bhutanese refugees living in Nepal have been resettled in the USA and six other countries, with numbers expected to grow in the coming months, says the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
The Bhutanese refugees, who were initially against the idea of third-country resettlement, hoping instead to be repatriated to their homes - were expressing stronger interest to UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) for third-country resettlement.
The two agencies have been facilitating their resettlement since 2007.
The first batch of 100 refugees left for Arizona in March 2008. By 25 June, a total of 1,255 refugees had departed for the USA, with 169 to Canada, The Netherlands, Denmark, Australia, New Zealand and Norway, UNHCR reported.
The refugees are Bhutanese citizens of Nepalese origin - known as “Lhotsampas” in Bhutan.
The Lhotsampas have been living in seven camps in eastern Nepal for the past 17 years since being evicted from their homes by the Bhutanese government, which introduced a law stripping them of their citizenship and civil rights because of their ancestry.
Pro-resettlement feeling growing
“It is expected that within a few months, some 2,000 refugees will be able to leave each month. The offers for resettlement have been made for a period covering some four to five years,” UNHCR Nepal representative, Daisy Dell, told IRIN.
More countries in Europe have shown interest in housing refugees from Bhutan but so far there has been no confirmation of additional offers, she added.
To date, more than 38,500 Bhutanese refugees have registered their desire for resettlement - nearly one-third of the total 107,000.
“Other families have still not decided what is best for them and may need additional information from those already resettled,” explained Dell.
“The numbers could grow immensely as they become aware of better lives [abroad] rather than the hardship of living in the camps,” refugee Ashok Gurung said.
Gurung, a member of the Nepal-based Refugee Rights Coordinating Committee, said the past 17 years of hardship had affected their lives so badly that mental health and depression problems were spreading among the population.
“We know the political reality. For how long can we refugees deal with this suffering?” Gurung asked.
However, while most experience culture shock when they move, they gradually adjust to “new and better lives”, according to relatives and friends of resettled refugees.
“They are treated with care and provided with good facilities. There is no more suspicion over refugees just dumped in some foreign country,” said Thakur Mishra, a Bhutanese journalist and editor of the online Bhutan News Service.
However, there remain security concerns due to constant threats by underground organisations run by some refugees who advocate for repatriation and against resettlement.
“One of them includes the Bhutan Communist Party-Marxist Leninist Maoist [BCP-MLM], which has often been blamed for intimidating refugees against applying for resettlement,” said one refugee activist who declined to be identified.
He added, however, that as more refugees declared their desire to leave openly, the threats had decreased.
In fact, several of those who supported the BCP-MLM had left the party and applied for third-country resettlement themselves, he explained.
“Refugees must be able to exercise their freedom of decision regarding durable solutions,” said UNHCR’s Dell, adding that the agency was working closely with local authorities and police to protect refugees from harassment, intimidation and the use of force.