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BHUTAN: Refugee Issue- International players are stepping in: Update 33


Note No. 194                        01.08.2003

by Dr. S. Chandrasekharan 

It may not be music to the Indian government. In the absence of any alternative, the desperate refugee representatives of Kudanabari camp are meeting diplomats of various countries to get them involved in the issue that has dragged on too long and justice appears to be farther away now with the biased verification results of the camp by the JVT having been published.

We have in the last update 32, shown how cleverly the poor refugees were short changed and the appeals made on the results will have the same fate and injustice will continue. For this Nepal Government is to be blamed equally for having not properly examined the mountain of evidence provided by the refugees to prove their citizenship. After laboring for eighteen months, the two governments should feel ashamed to have produced a document full of holes that will not stand scrutiny by any independent agency.

The Refugee representatives of Kudanabari camp have issued a general appeal seeking independent verification of the appeals made on the verification results. Two major points they had insisted were

* Involve UNHCR in repatriation and rehabilitation.

* Involve the refugee representative T.N.Rizal in the ongoing dialogue for the resolution of the problem.

Over 94 percent of the refugees of the camp have appealed against the categorisation in the pro forma given to them. Ironically the pro forma consists of two parts- one. New material evidence as if the old evidence has been properly scrutinised. and two. Clear error in the process.(verification and harmonisation) 

During the interview the refugees were never allowed to explain the documents produced by them.  They were just asked to leave them with the JVT.   The team members gave the impression that they knew all about the documents and that they had already decided the case. It is not clear how one can produce fresh evidence of events that occurred twelve years ago?. 

Secondly what is the guarantee that the appeal with the evidence produced now will not meet the same fate?

Take for example the case of Garima Adhikari and her children. The properties owned by the family was of the order of 2.46304 Crores ( over 24.6 millions) in Nu which is of the same value as Indian rupee. The property included a house, three orange orchards, cardamon field, a rice mill, a grocery shop, a truck and a personal car. They have produced enough evidence to show how they were forcefully evicted and their property seized by the authorities. They have been placed under category II- that is those who have voluntarily migrated. It is unthinkable that a prosperous family like that of Garima Adhikari would have voluntarily abandoned all their immovable and movable properties worth Crores of rupees to live the life of a refugee in a small hut in Kudanabari camp and surviving on the dole of the UNHCR.

There are many other cases similar to that of Garima Adhikari. It should be clear by now that the refugees even on their appeal are not going to get justice from both the countries who appear to have conspired to treat the issue shabbily and it is inhuman to say the least. The only alternative is for the refugees to seek international help in getting justice. ( India comes under another category as the proverbial person who pretends to be asleep and cannot therefore be woken up)

Already the international community appears to be seized of the problem. The US Ambassador to Nepal pointed out the inconsistencies in the JVT report and suggested that the two countries Nepal and Bhutan to reexamine the report. He also expressed his dismay over the tardy progress in the repatriation of the refugees from the Kudanabari camp which had been verified already. One other significant point made by him was the need for the involvement of the UNHCR ( United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) in resolving the problem. Two senior officials of US refugee Committee visited the refugee camps in the last week of July and have expressed solidarity with the refugees. Of the people who received the delegation, one child five years old was said to have held a placard saying "How come our name is in the terrorist list?"

While Nepal Government has no objection on the involvement of UNHCR in the problem,  Bhutan has not responded and is perhaps waiting to know India’s reaction. Tek Nath Rizal in a telephonic interview to the media has also said that they have been demanding UNHCR’s involvement for a long time and that without its involvement, the refugee problem cannot be solved.

The United Kingdom has expressed its support to the refugees in a letter received by Rizal. The European Union has also supported the idea of involvement of UNHCR. In a statement it said " The EU shares concerns expressed over procedures and results of the verification process according to which the legal standing, including citizenship rights of 70.5 percent of the refugees classified as having left Bhutan voluntarily is uncertain."

It is said that the appeals are being examined by the JVT (Joint Verification teams). No justice can be expected for the refugees from this team. It is time  the international players step in to get the refugees back to their country with honour and dignity.  In this, Tek Nath Rizal who is the most well known leader with international reputation should take an active lead.