Alteration of camp into settlement irks Bhutanese refugees

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By Bishnu Prasad Pokharel,Damak, Dec. 9: The three-decade-old Bhutanese Refugee Camps in Eastern Nepal have been renamed as Bhutanese Refugee Settlements.  Senior refugee leaders informed that the camps in Beldangi of Jhapa district and Pathari-Shanishchare of Morang district were renamed Bhutanese Refugee Settlements without any discussion with the stakeholders and that the information regarding the decision was not officially made public.

Senior citizens and disabled Bhutanese refugees who have not resettled in third countries are currently residing at the camps. Balaram Paudel, former President of the Bhutan People's Party, who is living in exile in Nepal, said that the unauthorised change was a matter of concern for the refugees and that the Nepal government should inform the Bhutanese refugees regarding the conversion of the camps into settlements.

“The refugees are unaware of the fact that the camp has been turned into a settlement,” said Paudel. “Even though the issues of repatriation, third-country resettlement and localisation were raised by the authorities to solve the refugee problem, third-country resettlement has stopped and no initiative is in place for repatriation,” he added.

“Perhaps the camp has been renamed as a settlement for localisation. But we still believe that we will be able to return to our country someday. We cannot stay here without a nationality,” said Paudel.

Altogether 113,567 Bhutanese refugees have been resettled in America, Australia and various European countries. According to the Refugee Coordination Unit in the District Administration Office, Jhapa, there are still 6,365 refugees languishing in Pathari-Shanishchare and Beldangi-based refugee camps.

According to Assistant Chief District Officer of Jhapa and Deputy Director of Refugee Coordination Uni, Rudra Prasad Neupane, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Nepal (UNHCR) agreed with the Nepal government to establish a settlement at the camp.

The election of the Bhutanese Refugee Settlement Management Committee was held with the changed name. Neupane informed that in an agreement with UNHCR representatives, the election of the camp was done by mentioning the word ‘settlement’ instead of ‘camp’. Now all works have been going on under the name of the Bhutanese Refugee Settlement Management Committee since the official name of the camp was altered.

“I don't think the naming of camps or settlements will make such a difference. Refugees and leaders are partially interested in this issue, no official letter or decision of the government has been received,” said Neupane. Even now, the refugees have been protesting repeatedly in the camps, demanding that they should be provided with identity cards.

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