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Can't wait to leave


KUNDAN ARYAL in JHAPA


SHYAM TEKWANI
FAR AWAY FROM HOME: Unlike in Bhutan where her family owned large fields and cattle, Naramaya Tiwari, 70, has to compromise on food, clothing and all other basic needs here at the refugee camp.

Despite a spate of bombings, threats and intimidation most of the 110,000 refugees from Bhutan in camps here in eastern Nepal are in favour of repatriation to third countries as long as their right of return to Bhutan is guaranteed.

Last month, the office here of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) was bombed. Although four different groups claimed responsibility, the suspicion has fallen on a new group of self-styled extremists called the Refugee Liberation Army who are against resettlement.

Since March, 1,900 refugees have been resettled in a program coordinated by the IOM with the UNHCR . Most of them went to the United States, and the rest to Canada, Denmark, Australia, New Zealand and Norway.

The Lhotsampa are Nepali-speaking Bhutanis who were chased out by the Thimpu regime in 1990 and have been living in seven camps in Jhapa and Morang since then. Many have been born in the camps. More than 42,000 refugees have registered for resettlement and their papers are being processed. Refugee agencies expect this number to grow as news trickles back about how well the refugees are doing where they have gone.

Refugee leaders like Tek Nath Rizal have been opposed to resettlement, but this has widened the gap between him and most refugees here. Hundreds of refugees previously thought to be aligned to Bhutani Maoists and were intimidating refugees who wanted to leave have themselves registered for resettlement.

However, not everyone is attracted by resettlement. There are groups who assert that the focus should not be on resettlement but on repatriation back to Bhutan. When these groups failed to persuade the refugees to oppose the resettlement process, they adopted violent means.

"The refugees are not going abroad for financial reasons and so the resettlement is not the correct solution. The priority should be repatriation," argues Pahalman Gurung, a refugee in Timai camp in Jhapa. There are some refugees who think the Bhutani regime has got away ethnic cleansing, and should actually be taken to the International Criminal Court.

But this does not reflect the aspirations of the majority of the refugees. Dhaka Ram Pokharel, who also lives in Timai camp, says: "Why should I close the door to a chance for a better life?" Indeed, Beldangi Camp secretary Tek Bahadur Gurung says his foremost concern is safety of the refugees.

He added: "We are not here to tell anyone to go or not go, everyone should be free to make up their own minds. We want to stop violence by those opposing resettlement."

ALSO READ
'No place like home' - FROM ISSUE #306 (14 JULY 2006 - 20 JULY 2006)
'Home away from home' - FROM ISSUE #340 (16 MARCH 2007 - 22 MARCH 2007)
'Long way from home' - FROM ISSUE #353 (15 JUNE 2007 - 21 JUNE 2007)


Refugees finally find respect

GOPAL GURAGAIN in AMSFOORT

HAPPY ENDING: Refugees from Goldhap and Sanischare at a Transit Centre in Amsfoort in Holland recently.
Sekhar Rizal always wanted to be a doctor. Till last year, the future looked bleak for this Grade 10 student who was born at the Goldhap Bhutani Refugee Camp in Jhapa.

Today, Sekhar is among the first batch of Bhutan's Lhotsampa refugees who have been resettled here as part of a plan under which the Netherlands, the United States, Denmark, Norway, Australia and Canada will give permanent residence to up to 90,000 of the 110,000 refugees.

Sekhar has never been to the country that he regards as his motherland. The Bhutan regime evicted his parents along with tens of thousands of others and trucked them across India to Nepal in 1990. For Sekhar and dozens of others here who arrived three months ago, the novelty of non-refugee life hasn't worn off.

"My bamboo classroom seems a long way away," he told Nepali Times, "the teachers here are amazing, they never spank us. The Dutch are so friendly and so respectful to us."

Shekhar is among Bhutanis who are being housed at the Amsfoort Transit Centre. The most dramatic change for them has been the restoration of their human dignity.

"As a refugee, we had no status. No one gave us any respect," recalls Kamala Rizal, who used to be a teacher at the Sanischare Camp in Morang. "Suddenly, the opportunities for us are limitless." Kamala wants to continue her teaching profession in the Netherlands after she learns the language.

The Bhutanis are all learning Dutch and while at the Transit Centre they get free lodging and 53 euros pocket money every week for food.

Rohit Acharya arrived here only a week ago, and he is still in a state of culture shock. He proudly shows a visitor the kitchen and bedroom in his apartment, and says it is difficult to get used to this after the collective camp life where there was never any privacy.

Also for Acharya, the most remarkable thing is that he has respect. "I am now treated like a human being again, people treat you as an equal. They don't look down on you because you are a refugee."



LATEST ISSUE
638
(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)


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