This is not the first time that a person holding a highly responsible position in Thimphu has made highly irresponsible remarks about some 100,000 of fellow Bhutanese now languishing in the seven refugee camps in eastern Nepal. The latest outburst has come from Bhutanese prime minister Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba, who, while presenting an annual report in Bhutan’s National Assembly on June 2, has alleged that the refugee camps in Nepal are “fast becoming a breeding ground for various radical political parties and terrorist groups, which is a cause for concern for Bhutan.” This attempt to link refugees with terrorism is unquestionably a blatant bid to divert the world’s attention from the real problem, and therefore to reduce international support for the cause, sustenance and welfare of the refugees.
Thimphu has resorted to one after another ruse during these 15 years, in the course of which 15 rounds of bilateral talks have been held to resolve the refugee crisis. In the initial period, the Druk regime refused even to recognise the issue at all, claiming that the refugees were not Bhutanese. When this tactic failed, it found other excuses and allegations to prevent refugee repatriation. In this, Thimphu has largely succeeded, with successive governments in Nepal playing into its hands, including Nepal’s acceptance of the four categories of refugees against accepted international norms and conventions. The post-October 4 (2002) non-elected governments have done no better. One of the governments came under fire for its reported understanding with Thimphu to settle in Nepal those refugees who did not want to return to Bhutan. Of course, under the harsh conditions set by Bhutan, many refugees are unlikely to go back. Moreover, as part of its delaying tactics, Thimphu has been refusing on flimsy ‘security’ grounds since December 23 last year to resume talks on repatriation of the refugees so far verified. Bhutan wants the refugees to be settled anywhere but in Bhutan. It seems to be getting its way, given Kathmandu’s tardiness. Strangely, Shital Niwas has not as yet protested against Zimba’s outrage. Even if some of the Bhutanese refugees turned “terrorist’, legally speaking, Bhutan could not refuse to take them back.