|YOUNG GENERATION: Basudev Osti (second from right) was in the capital this week with his fellow refugees to tell the world that Bhutani refugee children in Nepal suffer as much as refugee children anywhere else in the world.|
Basudev Osti has no memory of leaving his country as he was barely a year old when his parents were forced out of Bhutan in 1990. But he knows what it means to be a refugee and every day he hopes to be liberated from this status.
"I want to start a new life as a dignified citizen," says 17-year-old Osti who grew up in a refugee camp at Khudanabari.
Rebika Bhandari is worried that thousands of children will spend their entire lives as refugees. "We have been forgotten by everyone," she says. Osti and Bhandari are among the children whose art works, photographs, CDs and handicrafts are on display for three days at the Art Council this week. Visitors snapped up most of the items on display, including a portrait of King Jigme. Proceeds from the sale will go to the welfare of refugee children back at the camps in Jhapa and Morang.
US Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration Ellen Sauerbrey is in Kathmandu this week to review the process by which her country is taking more than 60,000 Bhutani refugees for resettlement. The move has divided the refugee community, with some who say all refugees should be allowed to return to Bhutan threatening those opting for third-country resettlement.
Sauerbrey is also visiting Bhutan and India. There are now an estimated 40,000 children in the camps, many of them born there. But the Bhutanese Refugee Children's Forum, representing child refugees, says more support is required. The refugees still have to buy uniforms and stationery, and nearly 10 percent of children have dropped out of school to help their parents in labouring jobs, to make ends meet.
The children complain of lack of food, of being unable to afford medical treatment, and of social rejection by Nepalis. Bhandari tells how she took a 13-year-old girl to a government hospital in Biratnagar a few months ago, only to be ignored by the doctor. She says the young girl had to sleep on a trolley for three nights before the nurses found her a bed and medicines.
"If you want to know our problems, then you will have an endless list," said 18-year-old Churamani Mainali, who told how his parents were beaten by Bhutani police just before they were evicted from their homes. "Although I was only two years old when I was forced out my country with my parents, I can imagine the pain that they went through."
Bhandari's grandparents migrated with the first generation of Nepalis to the southern lowlands of Bhutan during the 19th century at the invitation of the Bhutanese government, which wanted them to clear the malarial jungle for agriculture.
"We have every right to go back home and the world has to pay attention to us and not forget us so easily," she said. Mainali adds: "We have every proof to our right to live as citizens in Bhutan and the government cannot deny that in the face of the world."