Bhutanese refugees push for resolution on their status in Nepal

Bhutanese refugees push for resolution on their status in Nepal

A delegation of the Bhutanese refugees has met with Nepal Government officials seeking a resolution to the long-standing problems faced by the refugees.
They met with the officials at the concerned ministry and the representatives of the political parties and drew their attention towards the refugees' issues.
Beldangi Camp Secretary, Tikaram Rasaili, at a press conference held on Thursday said the refugees have again drawn Nepal Government's attention towards the necessity for a permanent resolution to their problems.
The delegation reiterated the demands for repatriation, rehabilitation in the third country, localization, internationalization and renewal of the registration process for those who were left out earlier.
The team arrived in Kathmandu three days ago and met with Home Minister, Ram Bahadur Thapa, Foreign Minister, Pradeep Gyawali, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Nepal Chief, Minako Kakuma, Home Secretary, Prem Kumar Rai, Refugee Coordination Unit Under – Secretary, Munka Neupane.
The delegation included Morang – based Pathari – Shanischare Camp Secretary, Chempasingh Rai, Beldangi Camp Secretary Rasaili and former Secretary Yuvraj Sangpang Rai among others.
While the influx of farmers was mutually beneficial for both sides for decades, the fate of Bhutan's Nepalese descendants was altered in the early 1980s when King Jigme Singye Wangchuck's launched the "One Nation, One People"campaign, with a view to strengthening the country's national identity. The policy culminated with the implementation of the Citizenship Act in 1985. All of a sudden Nepalese families who had called Bhutan home for generations became illegal in the country where they were born. They were threatened and ultimately forced to go into exile in Nepal.
Although this was the land of their ancestors, nearly 100,000 people came back as refugees in their own country. They were forced to settle in camps lost in the Nepalese jungle, in the east of the country. Without the right to work or the possibility of building permanent houses – and dependent on agencies for food and education – they spent 30 years waiting for a return to Bhutan. But the return would never come.
In 2008, aware that neither Nepal nor Bhutan had the will to settle the status of the Bhutanese refugees, the UN decided to close the camps so the families could be repatriated in eight countries that offered to take them in: Canada, United States, Norway, Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the United Kingdom. For six years the life of the camps was punctuated by the departure. Each week between 200 and 400 refugees boarded buses to rebuild their lives in a world unknown to them.
During visits to the camps in 2013 and 2014, I watched as people left everything they knew behind to start a new life. Over the next few years nearly 1,000 Bhutanese refugees arrived in Quebec City, while many more settled across the country. All of a sudden they became my neighbours, and the neighbours of thousands of other Canadians.
The first to arrive in Quebec did not even know that they would have to learn French. The shock was especially strong for those who arrived in the middle of the winter. But little by little the community found its place within the local and national fabric. Today they have become a true example of positively integrated immigrants, who have managed to preserve the essence of their culture in their daily lives.
While Canada has provided great opportunities to the Bhutanese exiles, there is still a sense of longing for a country they will likely never see again. As the older generations say, if they are here today, it is not for themselves, but rather to provide a future for their children.

Ramesh Pokhrel

Ramesh Pokhrel

Nepal & India base Freelance journalist .

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