Communists in Bhutan?
The contribution of the US, UNHCR, India and et all
From 28 May 2007, Bhutanese refugees will launch fresh movement demanding their right to return to Bhutan in the wake of programme for resettlement in third countries, offered mainly by the United States. All eyes of the diplomatic community in Nepal and neighbouring India would be on the role of the Communist Party of Bhutan (Marxist-Leninist-Maoists), the CPB-MLM.
On 3 May 2007, the activists of the CPB-MLM prevented the representatives of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) from holding consultations with Bhutanese refugees at Beldangi camp regarding their resettlement in the United States. They demanded return to Bhutan. The UNHCR has undertaken the consultation programmes following the proposals from the United States to resettle over 60,000 Bhutanese refugees in the US over the next 4-5 years. The United States is reportedly setting up an overseas processing entity (OPE) in Kathmandu to start resettling the refugees from 1 July 2007.
The UNHCR is too eager to wash off its hands. On 7 March 2007, Representative of UNHCR in Nepal, Abraham Abraham stated that the proposal of third country resettlement was a "very important offer" and encouraged the refugees to accept it.
Since 1990s, over 100,000 refugees from Bhutan have been languishing in the camps in eastern Nepal. Because of the failure of the international community to censure Bhutan for its ethnic cleansing policies, no solution could be found on the vexed issue. Nepal often responded to the proposals from Bhutan, and in June 2003, it agreed to classify the refugees into four categories: Category 1- Bonafide Bhutanese who had been evicted forcefully; Category 2 - Bhutanese who migrated on their own; Category 3 - Non-Bhutanese; and Category 4 - Bhutanese who have committed criminal acts. The categorization of refugees has been reiterated as racist.
Out of the total refugee population of 12,183 at Khudunabari camp, the Joint Verification Team of Nepal and Bhutan found 293 persons of 74 families under Category 1; 8,595 persons of 2182 families under Category 2; 2,948 persons of 817 families under Category 3; and 347 persons of 85 families under Category 4.
I. The flawed US offer
The United States' offer to accept as many as 60,000 refugees sounds sexy when the western countries turned into fortresses for the refugees and asylum seekers in the post cold war period. In the post September 11 th period, immigrants from the Muslim countries are no longer welcome, especially in the United States. Therefore, unless the United States adopts a comprehensive policy for resolving the Bhutanese refugee crisis, its offer might be mis-construed. After all, the Bhutanese refugees, who are mostly Hindus and Buddhists, fit the American requirements for immigration in the post September 11th period.
The determination of citizenship status of the all the refugees is indispensable for any solution to the crisis. Unless citizenship status is determined it is highly likely that those who are bonafide citizens of Bhutan even as per the discriminatory and illegal yardsticks of the Bhutanese government will be considered for resettlement and those refugees whose nationality is being questioned by the government of Bhutan will be left out.
If the United States is serious about the solution of the Bhutanese refugee crisis, it must give first priority to those refugees who are unabale to prove their nationality. But such a process might include those who are illiterate and cannot speak in English irrespective of their nationality and therefore do not meet the criteria for resettlement. One does not have to be a communist but the United States and its implementing agency, UNHCR, must clarify as to what will happen to the remaining 40,000 refugees if the United States accepts only about 60,000 refugees.
II. The internal crisis of the Bhutanese refugees
In 1990s the demand for democracy in Bhutan by southern Bhutanese to a large extent was influenced by the success of the Jana Andolan (Peoples' Movement) in neighboring Nepal. The government of Bhutan unleashed repression and expelled thousands of its citizens for simply being ethnic Nepalis.
As thousands of refugees fled, the government of India washed its hands off by sending them to Nepal. The government of India also repeatedly blocked the return of the refugees to Bhutan. Most western governments supported the virtual ethnic cleansing policy of Bhutan in the name of preserving the socalled Shangrila of Bhutan.
In 1990s, the donors rushed to assist the refugees. NGOs with active support from the donors mushroomed in the refugee camps and each NGO developed its own constituency in the camps. The movement of the Bhutanese refugees got lost; the refugees like all exiled communities became divided and disillusioned. As conflicts in other countries erupted, donors gradually withdrew. Only the NGOs with posters and postboxes remained.
The plight of the Bhutanese refugees became a lost cause.
The offer of resettlement in the United States of late has become the rallying point for all the Bhutanese refugees.
Enter the Communist Party of Bhutan (Marxists-Leninists-Maoists) in this critical scenario. The activities of the CPB-MLM might have already raised alarmed bells. Questions are also being raised whether the success of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists) in Nepal have once again encouraged the Bhutanese of ethnic Nepali origin. And the government of Bhutan is once again having the last laugh.
It would be unfortunate if the genuine concerns of the Bhutanese refugees – determination of their nationality first – is to be overshadowed by the Communist Party of Bhutan (Marxists-Leninists-Maoists). If the United States is serious, it must evolve a policy involving the government of Nepal, government of Bhutan and representatives of the refugees. The government of Bhutan must undertake the responsibility to rehabilitate those who can prove their nationality under international supervision, and the United States will undertake to resettle those who cannot prove their nationality. The principle of own volition by an individual refugee and/or her family members must be the determinant factor to decide about resettlement.
Without such a solution, the United States and UNHCR might have just given necessary shot in the arms of the Communist Party of Bhutan (Marxists-Leninists-Maoists). That is also precisely what the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists) wants – extension of the moral and ideological influence. After all, the cold war was all about colonialism – expansion to bring under ideological fold. The Himalayas are slowly becoming the ground for a new kind of war between the US and the neo-Communists.