Eastern Nepal is the home for a significant Bhutanese refugee population who have fled what the UNHCR calls “ethnic tension” within the Kingdom of Bhutan.
In a nutshell the situation in Bhutan resides around ethnic Nepali (Lhotshampas), whom have lived in the Kingdom of Bhutan since around 1900. Lhotoshampas make up about 53 per cent of the Kingdom’s population, the minority Ngalongs at 17 per cent run the show with the Sharchop at 30 per cent are caught somewhere in the middle. Those of Nepali origin have been harassed out of the country of 1.9 million (rape and murder seems to be the main tools of engagement) and over the border into eastern Nepal with the remaining “Nepali” middle classes becoming highly politicised and in some cases militant with interactions with Nepali and Indian Maoists groups. ( For more information check out the South Asian Terrorism Portal run by the Institute for conflict management here.)
Currently 72,000 Bhutanese refugees live in camps near the shared Nepali /Bhutan border. This figure has been reduced from 108,000 due to a resettlement program which the UNHCR (The United Nation’s refugee branch) runs. This success of resettlement was celebrated today in Kathmandu. For some reason the celebration of this resettlement program to Western nations such as the United States and New Zealand has me a bit irked.
Why is a UN run program celebrating the likely scenario that 40,000 Bhutanese so far re-settled will most probably never see their home again? Why is this UN program addressing the symptoms and not the cause of the plight of these displaced Bhutanese? To be fair the UNHCR states they will continue with the international community to look into other options such as repatriation when viable though in reality this is UN speak for maintaining the status quo.
This is my main concern – we now live in a world where to live in your country of birth is no longer a right nor is it guaranteed that you will have a right of return if displaced. A world where the international agencies meant to deal with situations such as what is faced by those fleeing from Bhutan have very few options. The UN and the international community as a whole seem reluctant to help refugee or displaced populations whose country of origin is not resource rich. It appears the inability for the UN to address the cause of displacement is being celebrated by celebrating the re-settlement of these 40,000 Bhutanese refugees – admittedly in a non-direct manner.
The UNHCR is helping individuals who have been in the Eastern Nepal camps since 1993 by resettling them to the West. Resettlement in many ways is better then living in the limbo life if a refugee camp.But it is an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff solution. Surely the UN and it’s agencies can do better than facilitate the ongoing “ethnic tension” and consequential global displacement then by moving the symptom elsewhere? Is this really what we want to be doing as an international community as a long-term solution?
Here is the link to the UNHCR story.