The 14th round of ministerial level talks between Nepal and Bhutan regarding the repatriation of refugees not only puts a stop to the possibility of Bhutanese nationals going home, but also raises questions about Nepal's integrity.
The Nepali government granted the Bhutanese discretion in choosing who it would accept and simultaneously accepted diplomatic defeat by agreeing to grant Nepali citizenship to those unwilling to return to Bhutan. "The negotiations were compromised by the lack of an elected democratic Nepali government," says former foreign minister Ram Sharan Mahat.
International lobbying and persistent demands from the refugees pressured Bhutan into conceding even these partial gains. Refugee leaders say the Druk government will try to prove a majority of the refugees are non-Bhutanese, in compliance with the parameters set by the joint verification. "If Nepal doesn't promptly amend this blunder, it will soon have to welcome Indians of Nepali origin with open arms," says Mahat. He advised Nepal to seek the involvement of the United Nations and international human rights groups in monitoring the repatriation process.
Refugee leader Ratan Gazmere accused Nepal of violating international laws by agreeing to grant Nepali citizenships to Bhutanese refugees unwilling to return home. He said this would reduce them to mere squatters on Nepali soil. "It is a gross injustice to the Bhutanese refugees," he said.
The refugees are also discontented about Nepal's agreement to imprison and try those who are categorised as criminals. Gazmere said his group will take the matter to court because the Bhutanese government has categorically labelled political and human rights activists as criminals. He also expressed concern over where the refugees would be resettled when they are allowed back into Bhutan. Most of their houses were demolished and their lands were resettled with people from northern Bhutan.