The other side of the refugee coin: There is more media coverage and outrage about 22,000 Tibetan refugees in Nepal than five times as many Bhutanis. Could it be because most Bhutani refugees are not Buddhists?
By Gyan Subba
Geo-politics is all about double standards and national interest. The Americans invade Iraq, ostensibly to restore democracy and get rid of Saddam, but everyone knows it is about oil.
India backs Nepal’s democracy movement, but is in bed with the Burmese junta. Everyone knows it’s about gas.
But how does one explain India’s outright support for Bhutan’s eviction of 100,000 refugees, and its help in transporting them to Nepal. It can’t only be about hydropower.
Not just New Delhi, the ‘international community’ has been a mute by-stander to the world’s biggest refugee crisis in per-capita terms—Bhutan’s eviction of one-sixth of its population 17 years ago. There is more media coverage and outrage about 22,000 Tibetan refugees in Nepal than five times as many Bhutanis. Could it be because most Bhutani refugees are not Buddhists?
Finally, some Europeans seem to have taken notice that something is rotten in the kingdom of Bhutan. The Norwegian Refugee Council has timed its newsletter covering the refugee crisis for Bhutan’s first election this week. And to set things right for past neglect, it is a sharp indictment of the gross violation of human rights of its citizens perpetrated by the Druk regime.
With one sixth of the population in exile, the tiny kingdom of Bhutan has the dubious distinction of being one of the world’s highest per capita generator of refugees. The roots of the problem lie in the government’s attempts to alter the kingdom’s demography in favour of the ruling ethnic group. Since 1990, over 100,000 thousand southern Bhutanese of Nepalese ethnicity have been made refugees after being forcibly evicted, forced to flee persecution and repression, or expelled after being coerced into signing “voluntary” emigration forms. (more here)
‘Despite the extensive abuse of its own population, the country has—to a large extent—managed to avoid criticism in the international media,’ writes NRC Reports editor, Richard Skretteberg. ‘On the contrary, the media has often helped perpetuate the myth of an exotic land of happiness. However, what we have before us is a silent tragedy occurring in a media-created Shangri-la.’
Better late than never to say this. Finally someone in Europe has picked up what the Nepali media has been banging its head on for nearly two decades to get the world to take notice.
NRC Reports goes on to highlight the threats, detentions, confiscation of property that led to the original ethnic cleansing in 1991, and the Bhutani regime’s delaying tactics on their return with the direct collusion of India.
‘India bears a significant responsibility for finding a solution for the Bhutanese refugees…but the greater responsibility lies with Bhutan itself,” adds Skretteberg.
The NRC Reports also pokes holes in Bhutan’s ‘democratic elections’ this week.
The 2005 census in Bhutan has defined 13 percent of the population, mostly Lhotsampas, as non-nationals which means 82,000 Bhutanis within Bhutan weren’t allowed to vote in this week’s elections.
‘Exclusion of an ethnic group before an elections cannot be considered real democratisation,’ says the Report.
The report says there can be only three durable solutions to the crisis: repatriation to Bhutan, local integration in Nepal or resettlement. On repatriation, it accuses the Bhutani regime of being intrasigent and not even allowing back those classified as genuine Bhutanis in 2003. Local integration would be Nepal’s responsibility and Kathmandu has also been dragging its feet on extending citizenship even to those born in the camps and Bhutanis married to Nepalis after coming here.
The resettlement option for 85,000 Bhutanis to settle in western countries has created tension within the camps and the report calls on the resettlement to be entirely voluntary and the refugees allowed to retain the right to return to Bhutan.
What the report does not shed light on is the biggest mystery of all: how a tiny country of 700,000 people can arm-twist a giant neighbour of one billion people and charm western politicians and foreign aid bureaucrats to get away with ethnic cleansing. Not only is Bhutan not punished, it is now being congratulated for having ‘democratic elections’.
[This article was received in email.]