Escalating Bhutanese Refugee crisis in Nepal necessitates steps at resolution
19 June 2007 7:00 pm

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FORUM-ASIA submitted an open letter to the Government of Nepal demanding immediate steps to provide security to the Bhutanese Refugees and find a durable solution for the escalating Bhutanese refugee crisis.
To:
Rt. Honorable Girija Prasad Koirala
Prime Minister of Nepal
Office of The Prime Minister and Council of Ministers
Singh Durbar, Kathmandu, Nepal
Tel: 977-1-421000
Email: info@opmcm.gov.np

Subject: Escalating Bhutanese Refugee crisis in Nepal needs a durable solution

Rt. Honorable Prime Minister Koirala,

The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), on the occasion of the International Refugee Day on 20 June., would like to draw your attention to the escalating violence and the attacks in the refugee camps in eastern Nepal and along the Indian border, while some refugees were attempting to cross in a march to Bhutan on 28 May 2007.

The violent clashes resulted in the deaths of two Bhutanese teenagers, and inuries to hundreds by Nepali Armed Police Forces in the refugee camps. The third death of a Bhutanese refugee took place on 29 May in a confrontation with Indian police forces at the Nepal-India border.

On 28 May, a group claiming to be members of the Bhutanese Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist) attacked refugees who asked for a US offer to resettle Bhutanese refugees. The attackers beat at least one refugee leader and destroyed his and several others' huts in Beldangi-II camp in the eastern district of Jhapa, Nepal. Similar attacks occurred in another camp, Beldangi I of the same district, where several huts, including the camp administration office, were burnt down.

It is important to mention that the Bhutanese refugee crisis began in 1991 when Bhutan started to expel ethnic Nepali-origin people, a policy that resulted in an expulsion of one-sixth of the country's population. So far, in complete violation of international law, Bhutan has not allowed a single refugee to return. Consequently, the refugees have endured years in cramped camps with no prospects for solutions, where the conditions have lead to domestic violence and other social problems that have come after protracted periods in the closed camps.

We are deeply concerned about the atrocities perpetrated by Nepali police and request to the authorities to protect all rights of Bhutanese refugees including the right to peacefully express their views on resettlement or return. The Nepalese government's policy of not recognizing individuals under the urban refugee programme is hampering their third-country resettlement and it has put the status of hundreds of people in confusion.

We regret that not a single refugee has been able to go back home even after 16 rounds of bilateral talks. The diplomatic circle interprets this as a sheer failure of Nepalese diplomacy in that it could neither press the Bhutanese Government to accept its people nor could it convince the southern neighbour to become involved in solving the problem. The Nepalese Foreign Ministry must adopt the policy of Advocacy, Diplomacy and Lobbying (ADL) and intensify it in the global arenas so that the Druk regime will accept the need to repatriate its citizens. Even after the problem have persisted for so long the Ministry of Foreign affairs lacks a separate task force to look after the issue. The ministry must have such a body on a permanent basis until the refugee crisis is solved. It should offer inputs to the government to formulate strategies to deal with the refugee problem.

Moreover, Nepal must respect refugees’ right to leave the country. The Government of Nepal should issue exit permits without delay for Bhutanese refugees who are offered resettlement. While the Government of Nepal should continue to demand that the Government of Bhutan respects refugees’ right to return to Bhutan, it should not make its cooperation on resettlement contingent on the outcome of further rounds of bilateral talks with Bhutan.

We would like to remind Nepal’s government that it is a state party to the Convention Against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (14 May 1991), and being a party to the convention, Nepal has to formulate domestic legislation that stipulates the rights of refugees and asylum-seeking persons. We also note with concern that the State party has not acceded to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and other related international legal instruments. Further, we would like to remind the Nepal because of the concluding observation of the Committee against Torture in its 35th session, in November 2005, the government is obliged to implement the observation of the committee by enacting the legislation aimed at prohibiting refoulement of persons without an appropriate legal procedure.

Therefore, we strongly urge Nepal to provide security in the Bhutanese refugee camps to enable free expression of opinions and beliefs and prosecute intimidators who threaten or harm those who exercise their rights to freedom of opinion, expression, and association. And Nepal should also continue to provide secure asylum to the Bhutanese refugees for as long as is required before they have found a durable solution.

In addition, we strongly urge the Government of Nepal to cooperate with the US Government and other resettlement countries over the issues of resettlement of Bhutanese refugees, as well as issue exit permits in a timely way to all refugees who wish to repatriate or who choose to accept third-country resettlement. The government must continue to demand that Bhutan respects the right to return for all Bhutanese refugees. The Government must ensure that domestic legal standards relating to refugees fully comply with the international instruments to which Nepal is a party.

We also urge the Government of Nepal to become a party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, and adopt implementing asylum laws and regulations.

FORUM-ASIA seeks safe reparation of the refugees and a durable solution for the Bhutanese refugee issue in Nepal.

Sincerely yours,

(Anselmo Lee)
Executive Director

C.C.
1) Honorable Sahana Pradhan; Minister for Foreign Affairs; Sheetal Niwas, Kathmandu, Nepal
2) Mr. Abraham Abraham; Representative; United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; Anil Kuti, Maharajgunj, Kathmandu, Nepal