A painful wait of Bhutanese refugees to get back home
DAMAK, June 1: "Nepal gave us shelter for 25 years. Now we just want to go back to our land. Our lives are miserable here.”
This is the unified voice of Bhutanese refugees still languished in refugee camps in Jhapa, most of whom are aged, feeble and lonely. They say that they are grateful to Nepal where they have been living a displaced life since decades. Deep down in heart, they think of their country day and night, yearning to return back to their native land.
"We dream of going back to Bhutan as soon as possible. We think of our motherland day and night. We have been appealing to all, but our voices have not reached the concerned governments and the world leaders," laments Tikaram Rasaili, secretary of Beldagi Refugee Camp in Jhapa. "We could not get justice even in two and a half decades," he added.
According to Rasaili, after their young ones left for the USA, Canada and other countries under the third-country settlement, only elderly people have been left in the camps. The elderly people neither like to stay in Nepal nor do they wish to settle down in 'developed' countries.
"Our heart is in Bhutan, we want to go back to our homeland. Only the elderly people are left now, besides some exceptions," said Rasaili, who himself is in his mid-thirties.
Government data shows that there are around 7,000 refugees left in the camp after the third-country settlement of over 100,000 refugees.
Earlier, before the process of the third-country settlement begun, there used to be frequent demonstrations and protests in those camps. However, now such things are rare, says Rasaili.
"Many elderly people have died here like street dogs. It is very painful to witness such pathetic deaths as they do not have anyone to offer the last rites. Their family members have started living overseas," narrates Rasaili.
Rasaili stated that the elderly people rather chose such miserable lives themselves instead of going abroad with their families, in hope of returning home one day. “What else could they do?”
"When the youngsters left for 'big countries', the elderly too had a chance to join them. But when the heart yearns to go back home, there is no point in traveling abroad. In the hope of going back to Bhutan someday, many of them denied the option,” said Rasaili, adding, “We are worried how long will Nepal let us live here. We are in so much pain."
Even if they wish to go abroad like their children, the option is no more available now. On the other hand, the camps do not receive support like before. Many organisations used to come forward for help, providing them food, clothes and other essential stuffs in the past.
"The government of Nepal, UN and other organisations were helping us. But now, we get no food," said Rasaili. "We have no option than to go back to Bhutan. We want the government here to do something for this," he added.
Of late, the refugees have been trying hard to draw the attention of the government. They have talked to several leaders but in vain.
"Only a few of us are left now. But our determination is very strong," said Rasaili.
According to Bhutanese refugee leader Dr Bhampa Rai, the refugees have been denied justice. Though the only permanent solution of the refugee issue is letting them get back home, this aspect has been ignored.
"We have been living in Nepal for 25 years. Other options are not there. The only permanent solution to our problem is our repatriation," he said. "Nepal government and other leaders must help manage this for us. This is a matter of justice," he added.
Stating that they are living in a very miserable condition in lack of due support and care, they simply want to get back to their homeland. The refugees recently handed over a memorandum to Damak and Pathari - Sanishchare municipalities. They have urged the government to pay attention to their issue.
Efforts to resolve refugee issue
The refugees feel that it is India which has been standing as an obstacle against their repatriation.
The refugees claimed that India did not let them cross the border even when Bhutan was ready to let them in.
Within a decade, Nepal and Bhutan governments held talks for 15 times regarding the issue. The regular talks held from 1993 to 2003 gave some results but failed to bring the problem to an end.
As third country settlement was offered as an option, 100,000 refugees went to USA and other developed countries. But not everyone liked that offer.
"Nobody seemed to be bothered of our rights. Even when Bhutan was ready to get us back, India did not support," says Tikaram Rasaili. "We protested in Mechi Bridge so many times. But India did not let us cross it. We could not go back even after huge preparations," he lamented.