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Publication Date : 05-10-2012
In a welcome move, Nepal and Bhutan are talking again to find a mutually agreeable solution to the issue of Bhutanese refugees in Nepal. On Tuesday, Deputy Prime Minister Narayan Kaji Shrestha met with Bhutanese Prime Minister Lyonchoen Jigmi Yoezer Thinley on the sidelines of the 67th UN General Assembly and agreed to revive Ministerial Joint Committee meetings to find an amicable solution. According to a press statement issued by the Nepali mission in New York, Shrestha has asked the Bhutan government to come forward to resolve the refugee problem once and for all. We hope that Bhutan will take up the matter with urgency and welcome back those refugees who want to be repatriated back to their homes. This will, without increasing the pain of the refugees any further, remove the biggest thorn in relations between the two countries and help begin a new chapter of cooperation on issues, economic and political, that are of interest to both countries nestled in the Himalayas.
A lot has changed since Nepal gave refuge to more than 100,000 Bhutanese of Nepali descent, also called Lhotshampas, or “southerners”, in the 1990s. The refugees claim that they were expelled from Bhutan by the Bhutanese military. Both countries have seen numerous political changes, most notable of which have been Nepal’s transition from a constitutional monarchy to a republic, and Bhutan’s transition from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy. Today, more than two-thirds of Bhutanese refugees are living in third countries as part of a resettlement plan that was started in 2008. With the help of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organisation for Migration, as well as the receiving countries, more than 66,000 refugees have resettled in the US, England, Canada, Australia, Denmark and New Zealand. However, the resettlements, although accepted by the vast majority of the refugees, does not absolve Bhutan of the crimes committed against the Lhotsampas. Nor does it take away the responsibility of the Nepal government and the international community to make repatriation possible for more than 10 thousand refugees who have refused third-country resettlement.
Until now, the Nepal government has stood firmly against local integration. This position, too, needs to be reconsidered to enable the government to take the most humane actions possible. Third-country resettlement does not appeal to all refugees, although many who chose it will find it easier to begin their lives in the West. Even then the resettled ones are discovering that life in the West is no piece of cake, especially after support from the receiving governments is halted. For many others, including those who are too old to learn a new language and acclimatise to new cultures, the prospects of relocating to third countries are daunting. It is clear that they yearn to be back in their homes and in their old jobs, mostly as farmers, in Bhutan. If the Bhutan government refuses to act humanely and let them go back to their homes, the Nepali government should show magnanimity and let them settle here and pass their remaining days in peace.