Little more than 6,000 Bhutanese refugees are currently living in Beldangi and Shanischare in eastern Nepal. They refused resettlement in third countries, and want to go home in Bhutan or settle down here in Nepal. About 116,000 of Bhutanese refugees have been resettled in the United States and Europe. Of them, 96,148 were resettled in the United States alone. The government of Nepal should expedite talks with the new government of Lotay Tshering in Bhutan. It has been more than three decades since the refugees started living in camps in Nepal.
Nepal and Bhutan discussed the issue at the highest levels multiple times in the past. However, Bhutan has been reluctant to resolve the problem once and for all. Many of our governments are assured of follow-ups on the refugee issue by respective Bhutanese governments, but nothing substantial has come out of the engagements so far.
Moreover, India is also an important factor in resolving the refugee issue. Without India’s active participation and willingness, Bhutan is unlikely to find a solution to the problem. Nepal has seen this happen many times in the past. The Oli government should actively engage both Bhutan and India in deciding the fate of remaining 6,000 plus refugees. Moreover, broader engagements of the United Nations and other regional and international organizations should also be explored.
Donor agencies providing support to those in camps are also withdrawing. It will now be upon Nepal government to bear the expenses. The idea of integrating the camp dwellers in Nepal is a bad choice. Such practice will set a wrong precedent. We already have a number of Rohingya Muslims and other refugees from Africa living in make-shift camps around Kathmandu. We cannot and should not entertain the idea of integrating the refugees in Nepal. The issue deserves our government’s immediate attention. The Oli government should work to bring onboard India and Bhutan to end the problem to which Nepal had no role in creating in the first place. It was then Bhutan’s government that expelled thousands of Nepali speaking Bhutanese from their homeland. It is rather a shame that Bhutan even refuses to abide by the UN verification process that was first put in place in full consultation between the two governments.
Bhutan should acknowledge the mistake in the first place and apologize for it. While thousands of Bhutanese resettled in the west are not likely to return to their homeland if given a choice, the 6,000 plus living in camps in Nepal deserve to go home at the earliest. It is rather ironic that the country that expelled a quarter of its population preaches about happiness to the rest of the world.