With most Bhutan refugees resettled in third countries, some families are abandoned again
Debimaya Sarki remembers the chilly evening of 5 January 2010 well. She was in her hut in the Timai Camp for refugees from Bhutan, where she had been living for nearly 20 years after being forced out of her homeland
A young woman and a teenage girl with a two-week baby pleaded to let them spend the night, saying they were from a village outside and night had fallen while carrying the sick child to the health post.
The three spent the night in Debimaya’s Timai Camp Sector D5 Hut Number 46. Next morning, the two had disappeared leaving the baby behind. Debimaya named the baby Angela, (pic, right) and she grew up with her children Jipesh and Apsana.
Four years later, Debimaya’s resettlement process is stuck because of that act of kindness. Her relatives have all been resettled around the world, but because of Angela, Debimaya’s family cannot leave.
“I cannot abandon her again here, I raised her,” Debimaya pleads, “but the sirs at UNHCR and IOM say I can’t take her with me.”
Debimaya’s own daughter was two when Angela was abandoned in her hut, and she breast-fed the undernourished Angela along with her own daughter.
“She sleeps on my lap, I raised her, and did everything except give birth to Angela. She is my daughter,” says Debimaya.
But UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency) and IOM (International Organisation for Migration) say they are bound by rules that only refugees are allowed to be resettled. So far nearly 90,000 of the 120,000 refugees have been resettled in a process that started in 2008, mostly to the United States.
Infographic: Ayesha Shakya
Ram Bahadur Baniya, 30, of Sanischare Camp of Morang district also used to live in Timai Camp and was ready to leave for the US, but in April the Department of Homeland Security rejected his application for being associated with a terrorist organisation. He had been caught extorting money from fellow-refugees eight years ago.
The other 27 members of Ram Bahadur’s extended family, including father, mother, five brothers and four sisters have already been settled in Ohio. After being prevented from leaving, Ram Bahadur’s wife Purna Maya left him and lives separately with their son in the Camp, and their resettlement papers are being processed. Ram Bahadur himself married again and runs a provision store in the Camp.
There are an estimated 200 other refugees whose resettlement documents have been either rejected or are under investigation. Among those is also Lilaprasad Bhujel, 31, a refugee from Bhutan who met Sita Bhujel, 27, from Heklang of Palpa district at a church. They got married in 2007, but by then Lilaprasad’s first wife, Karna Maya, had already left for the US with their seven-year-old son. His father and mother have also been resettled in America.
“They say I am not eligible for resettlement until I can prove I am divorced from Karna Maya,” says a dejected Lilaprasad. UN sources say most of those whose applications have been withheld have multiple marriages, have criminal records, or have been found to be affiliated with “terrorist organisations.”
There are some refugees who don't want to be resettled, but they are exceptions. Some 1,974 refugees without identity papers who had been rejected resettlement went on an 11-day hunger strike in 2012, and 1,800 of them were finally registered as refugees. There are a hundred or more families living outside Beldangi waiting and hoping that they will also one day be included.
Even 23 years after more than 100,000 people of Nepali origin were driven out of Bhutan, refugees are still arriving in the camps. Buddhahang and Panchamaya Subba arrived last year with six family members in Beldangi. Driven out of their ancestral village of Dagana in southern Bhutan, the Subbas lived in Sikkim for 15 years and worked in a farm in Ilam for six years.
One of Buddhahang’s sons, Suk Bahadur, is married to a Nepali from Taplejung, and all live in a hut in Beldangi that has just been vacated by a family which has already left for the US. But their refugee application has still not been approved. However, the Camp authorities say they doubt recent refugees will be permitted resettlement.
State of statelessness Jan Møller Hansen and Sunir Pandey
Debimaya’s daughter Gopal Gartaula
Huddled masses, waiting to rejoin families Gopal Gartaula
Those who want to stay Gopal Gartaula
Gross National Shame Anurag Acharya
No refuge when refugees leave Marcus Benigno