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Published:May 26th, 2007 06:34 EST
Gueterres Visit Brings No Cheers

Gueterres Visit Brings No Cheers

By I P Adhikari

The third visit by the UNHCR chief brought no cheers to the Bhutanese refugees who hoped for the last 17 years to get back to their homes with all fundamental rights guaranteed and opening of the country for a full fledged democracy from absolute monarchy ruling for a century.

Lack of upbeat about Gueterres visit here has been caused by failure of Sadako Ogata`s effort to convince the Druk regime to take back its citizens in 2000. While the statement of Ogata had given clear message that Bhutan had finally agreed to return genuine Bhutanese refugees, Gueterres mentioned, during this three-day stay on Nepal, nothing that is instrumental for finding a solution of the crisis.

As he spoke during a press meet at Hotel Soaltee, his political characters were explicitly observed even he repeatedly said UNHCR does no concern on political matters. Former chair of the Socialist International, Gueterres clearly stated he was not in the position to pressurise Bhutanese regime to take its citizens back rather he called on that resettlement was a better option.

UNHCR role
Gueterres also explained UN may not put pressure on the Bhutanese regime for this purpose, which has shown the interest of the western countries to legitimise the authoritarian rule and inhuman atrocities of Bhutan government in early 1990s. If this world body wishes to uphold absolutism just because Bhutan mimicked the international community by introducing limited democratic changes, the political suppression will continue to be the major problem in northeast Indian sub-continent where Bhutanese lies even though UN continue to call for end of such problem.

India has been the ExCom member of the UNHCR and this makes easy for the UNHCR to play critical role in gaining popular support from Indian government in repatriating the Bhutanese refugees. As a member of the UNHCR apex committee and nearest neighbour, of course the largest donor as well, of Bhutan, India by virtue of democratic nation, cannot remain offshore from the humanitarian issue that plagued southern Bhutan for decades.

Lately, UNHCR has not stressed for repatriation rather on third country settlement fuelled by US support. Its vigour to earn Indian support is looked as `bore to death`.  

Mandated that UNHCR must seek solution in three popular options if any refugee crisis gets prolonged but that does not mean it should repeatedly advocate in favour of third country settlement in case of Bhutanese refugees. No matter, most Bhutanese in camps and outside agree that resettlement is one of good options in finding solution of the crisis. That does not convey meaning to ask refugees to go western countries.

The agency has not explained refugees the terms and conditions of resettlement nor the core group members who will be taking them. Moriarty followed Gueterres to visit the camps in Jhapa and in both of theirs visit intended to promote the campaign for third country settlement not repatriation.

On the day Gueterres visited camp; BBC broadcast the voices of 15-yr children in camps who sought help for their repatriation to Bhutan. But, their innocence for the distant land and longing for a homeward travel tarnish as UNHCR fuels its campaign for third country settlement.

UNHCR has held several meeting with the core group on resettlement process but not one on repatriation. Doesn`t this mean a paradigm shift in the policy of UNHCR in favour of resettlement over repatriation?

Back in the country
The tussle between the leaders, with few in exception, and the UNHCR chief in Nepal Abraham has gone up. All UNHCR officials including Abraham publicises they held meetings with Bhutanese refugees` leaders but such meetings are never represented by leaders. In all meetings, Hari Bangale remains the central figure. No arguments that he is one of the leading personalities in the refugee community, UNHCR should now stop saying that meeting with Bangale and his few followers does not encompass that it received consents from all leaders fighting for political and human rights.

Gueterres expressed his innocence towards the possibility of move eviction from Bhutan as reported by the New York based Human Rights Watch recently. If UNHCR considers that resettlement would find a solution of the crisis, further eviction would cause greater damage on image of the UNHCR for failing to pursue the Druk regime to take back its citizens and get affirmation of no more eviction.

In middle of this, one important thing that all concerned should consider is the ignorance of another UN body UNICEF office in Thimphu towards right to education of the children in southern Bhutan even to this day. Thousands of children have been barred from their right to education and health facilities because their parents have been linked to 1990 demonstrations.

By now, Nepalese foreign minister stated 85,000 of the Bhutanese refugees registered in Nepal camps would be absorbed. However, there is no light at the end of the tunnel for the remaining ones and those languishing in India. The foremost responsibility that international community and the UNHCR should carry out at this juncture is to ensure that comprehensive solution does not only mean resettlement and that resettlement, repatriation and assimilation, as individual refugees wish, should go parallel. It is the Nepal government who holds keys to make this happen. Solution, in any form, should pave way for a better future. Less cheered visit of Gueterres makes a memorable place in the history of Bhutanese refugees if it turned fortunes to lives of grieved refugees.