KESHAV P. KOIRALA
KATHMANDU: US President Donald Trump's recent executive order to suspend the US Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) has sent its ripples to Nepal also. The Nepal-based Bhutanese refugees, who were selected for their resettlement to the United States, have been directly affected by it for the time being.
Stakeholders, including International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UN refugee agency UNHCR, suspended their arrangements to send a new lot of Bhutanese refugees from eastern Nepal to the United States after the suspension of entire resettlement programme by Washington, multiple sources confirmed.
The US Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (BPRM) corresponded to them apropos to the 120-day suspension via the US Embassy in Kathmandu in the wake of the January 27 executive order, which has drawn flaks from within the US and across the globe.
A notice was circulated to the Beldangi-based refugees a couple of days ago regarding the suspension. Some of them had already undergone medical examinations and were making final preparations to leave their camp.
According to the notice, those who had already received confirmation and were scheduled to fly to their destinations from January 30 to February 2 would continue with the previous travel arrangements, but there would not be any departure after February 3 until further notice.
It could not be verified if anybody departed to the US during the window period. But the US media reported that three members of a family, who landed in Houston on Monday night, were among the last arrivals of refugees who made it to Salt Lake City prior to the full implementation of the executive order. The mother-daughter trio, who earlier lived in Nepal, would be resettled in Salt Lake City.
Several people, who were earlier tipped off that they would be taken to the IOM’s transit home in Kathmandu this week on the way to the US, were held back in Beldangi. With support from the UNHCR, the Government of Nepal and the US Embassy in Kathmandu, the IOM had been facilitating the exit permits and making travel arrangements for them.
Though all cases in the pipeline of USRAP have been put on hold for now, other works, including information collection and verification of the cases recommended by the Resettlement Support Centre South Asia, would continue as usual, the notice bearing US flag along with logos of RSC and IOM read.
The US government had considered the UNHCR-registered Bhutanese refugees who were identified as in need of resettlement, and had expressed interest prior to June 30, 2014, eligible for processing in the fiscal year 2017.
As many as 108,513 Bhutanese refugees of Nepali origin, including those who were forced to leave Bhutan and their children born in camps in Nepal, were taken to Australia, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, the United Kingdom and the US after the third country resettlement programme was introduced in 2007. The US alone has hosted more than 92,000 of them.
Click the marker to see figures
Expressing concern over the involvement of foreigners including refugees in terrorist activities in the US, President Trump suspended the refugee resettlement programme through the executive order.
"Numerous foreign-born individuals have been convicted or implicated in terrorism-related crimes since September 11, 2001, including foreign nationals who entered the United States after receiving visitor, student, or employment visas, or who entered through the United States refugee resettlement program," the executive order read.
During the 120-day period of suspension, according to the Section 5 of the executive order, the authorities in the US would review the USRAP application and adjudication process to determine what additional procedures should be taken to ensure that those approved for refugee admission did not pose a threat to the security and welfare of the country.
The refugee applicants who were already in the USRAP process, however, may be admitted upon the initiation and completion of these revised procedures.
"Upon the date that is 120 days after the date of this order, the Secretary of State shall resume USRAP admissions only for nationals of countries for which the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, and the Director of National Intelligence have jointly determined that such additional procedures are adequate to ensure the security and welfare of the United States," the executive order added.
Meanwhile, officials said as many as 872 refugees would be allowed to enter the US this week, according to media reports.
These refugees were ready to travel and would face “undue hardship” if not able to do so, the Washington Post quoted Kevin K. McAleenan, the Acting Commissioner of US Customs and Border Protection, as saying. "They will be processed with waivers through the end of the week," he said.
Anxiety in Beldangi camp
JHAPA: Kalimaya Magar and five members of her family expected to reunite with their kith and kin, who were already resettled to the US, in the second week of February.
They were scheduled to board a flight from Kathmandu on February 5 en route to Burlington, Vermont. But they were asked to stay back in Beldangi on Monday, a day before they were set to fly to Kathmandu, due to the US President's controversial order.
The suspension of refugee resettlement programme and the subsequent message conveyed to the refugees left the Thapa family and many others in the Beldangi camp anxious.
“We were all set to fly to the US but have been been stopped here. This is worrying us,” the 41-year-old woman said. -- HNS