It seems that the Bhutanese refugees are facing an identity crisis like never before in their 15-year-long stay at the refugee camps in Jhapa and Morang. Given the official apathy, and all past bilateral talks for repatriation to Bhutan now at a virtual dead end, the refugees are being forced to live in frustration and abject poverty. In a message on the World Refugee Day, Antonio Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said the refugees are faced with “an uncertain future in unfamiliar circumstances.” This portrays a grim reality.
The Bhutanese human rights leaders claim that no concrete solution has surfaced so far and the governments concerned are not paying enough attention to their grievances. The same conclusion can be drawn from UNHCR Nepal representative, Abraham Abraham’s recent interview saying, “not enough is being done” from the side of Bhutan and Nepal to solve the long-drawn crisis. Though the UNHCR has been pushing for local integration of those refugees who are reluctant to go back fearing reprisals by the Bhutanese establishment, there is quite a few for whom returning is the only option. The issue of citizenship for those wanting to remain in Nepal should be addressed but with extreme care. For this, the government has to keep in mind the legalities involved besides dealing with the implications of the third party resettlement. Needless to say, a lasting solution to this protracted crisis has to be found soon by the parties concerned.
Worrisome as these concerns are, something more profound has begun to cause tremors in
the refugee camps. While on the one hand there is increasing panic among the refugees that the bilateral aid and UNHCR support are being cut, on the other, the Bhutanese National Assembly was recently told by the Druk prime minister that some Maoists have infiltrated the refugee camps. But till date there has been no evidence to justify the statement. It is therefore high time both Nepal and Bhutan took positive steps to push the repatriation process ahead and let the people know the status and progress of their decisions. India’s assistance in the resolution of the problem continues to be crucial.