|FACE OFF: India's security forces bar the Bhutani refugees from crossing the Mechi bridge in Kakadbhitta.|
Seventeen years ago Bhutan carried out an ethnic cleansing of its Nepali speaking population. The refugees travelled across Indian territory to arrive in Nepal. India, which facilitated the movement of Bhutanis to Nepal can't now stop them from going back. Even legally India can't do it since Nepalis and Bhutanis are allowed to move across the Indian border freely.
India's actions support the Bhutani dictatorship and it bolsters the argument of those that are discriminating against the refugees. India has tried to say this is a bilateral matter between Bhutan and Nepal and remain neutral, but it can't when it allowed a neighbouring country to evict nearly one fourth of its population through its territory to another neighbouring country. Bhutan has for the past 17 years played for time, hoping that the refugees would assimilate. Nepal's policy of keeping Bhutan engaged while internationalising the issue has worked.
The Americans and Europeans now recognise this as a gross violation of human rights. Still, Bhutan is getting away with it despite international shaming and pressure. It is inhuman to keep any people in a camp for nearly two decades, and if there is no other alternative, third country resettlement is an option. Refugee groups know that unless they launch an even stronger movement, diplomacy alone is not going to get them back to their homeland. The US, Canada, New Zealand, Norway, the Netherlands, Denmark , and Australia have all said they are willing to take the refugees. The Amercians alone are taking more than half. It is natural for some refugee leaders to be despondent about third country resettlement. But the question is: how long can more than 100,000 people remain in camps? There is now donor fatigue, and food aid is running out.
Everyone should help find a pragmatic solution. Refugees should be free to choose whether to go to a third country or return to Bhutan. And it is India that should put the pressure on Bhutan.
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