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Bhutanese Refugee Resettlement Plan: Foreign lands, ignorance and assumptions

April 27, 2013


KATHMANDU, APR 27 – On May 1, 30-year-old Sher Bahadur Khadka will board a flight to the US , with little inclination as to what awaits him in the foreign land.


Khadka, who has only passed his grade 10, will reach the city of Pittsburg in Pennsylvania, under the UNHCR’s resettlement programme for Bhutanese refugees residing in Nepal, with little to no knowledge of the American economy or employment in the West. Equal parts excited and confused, all Khadka has planned so far is that he will be “working in an office.”


Khadka, who will be accompanied by his 23-year-old wife and some other fellow refugees, used to work as a kindergarten teacher in the Bhutanese refugee camp in Damak, where he arrived when he was just “nine or 10”.


“Life in the US should be better,” says the plump Khadka, clad in a red t-shirt emblazoned with the Sex Pistols. His parents and other family members have already resettled in the US .


Nirmaya BC, 22, will fly to the US in the same lot, with her husband, daughter, nephew and her 88-year-old grandmother, Lachhi Maya BC.


While Nirmaya–despite being clueless on what she will do after reaching the US –plans to send her younger brothers and daughter to good schools. Lachhi Maya, who was bedridden at the International Organisation for Migration (IOM)’s transit camp in Kathmandu, says that she is “happy to have been a part of this resettlement programme.”


While a majority of the Bhutanese refugees are being resettled in third countries, inadequate preparedness and a lack of essential orientation and skill training for them by the UN and other related organisations, including the IOM, however, has frequently raised concerns among refugee rights advocates, who have long been lobbying for the repatriation of the refugees.


Bhampa Rai of the Bhutanese Refugee Representation of Repatriation Committee pointed to a link between “lax preparedness” and a recently launched report commissioned by the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which showed an increasing rate of suicide among refugees.


“Organisations like the UN and the IOM are helping the King of Bhutan to a large extent by asking refugees to forget their origins and go to some alien land,” said Rai. “Above all, innocent refugees, who have their roots in Bhutan, are exposed to the hardships they are compelled to endure in third countries. This is sure to create depression, ultimately leading to suicides and other such accidents.”


Another leader, Tek Nath Rijal, echoed Rai, complaining that UN agencies concerned have never responded to repeated attempts to raise awareness in the UN and third countries about issues of adaptation and preparedness.


According to the ORR report, there have been 16 cases of suicide among Bhutanese refugees living in the US as of February 2012. It noted that the resettlement process coincided with the global financial recession. According to data from the Bhutan News Service, 25 people in the US and one each in Australia and New Zealand have ended up taking their lives.


Diane Goodman, UNHCR Acting Representative in Nepal, said the UN is concerned about the recent reports. However, she indicated that it is the primary responsibility of the third country to care for the problems of the refugees resettled there. On repatriation, she said the UNHCR is in constant touch with the Bhutanese government. However, she did not elaborate.


Speaking at a programme organised at the IOM on Friday, USAmbassador to Nepal Peter W Bodde said the resettlement programme was one of the most successful efforts. “I would like to thank the Nepal government, the UNHCR and the refugees themselves for this. It is not easy and refugees have many challenges,” said Bodde.


Through the programme, the UNHCR and IOM jointly stated that altogether 78,519 refugees have been resettled in various third countries so far. According to data, the US has accepted the largest number (66,134), followed by Canada (5,376), Australia (4,190), New Zealand (747), Denmark (746), Norway (546), the Netherlands (326) and the UK (317).


In the late 1980s, ethnic Nepalis were forcibly removed from Bhutan. They travelled through India to eastern Nepal, where refugee camps were eventually established. Many Bhutanese waited nearly 20 years in camps until resettlement to third countries–mainly the US –began in late 2007.


Posted on: 2013-04-27 05:00



From → History

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