The Bhutanese Refugee Saga
For the first time, big heads rolled in Nepal when the fake Bhutanese refugee scandal implicated top politicians, their families and bureaucrats. Of course, the bigger heads were spared and the investigation came to an abrupt halt with the transfer of police officers working the case.
Up until the early 2000s there was still some hope for repatriation to Bhutan. Excerpts of the report published 20 years ago this week on Nepali Times issue #169 7-13 November 2003:
Shanti Ram Acharya has 12 dependents, all living at Khudunabari camp. Though all of them have been 'lucky' to make it to Category I (bonafide Bhutani), he is having second thoughts about applying for voluntary repatriation that begins on 15 February 2004.
"We wish we could go back, but there are a lot of uncertainties. Yes, we have been assured that we will be given citizenship immediately after repatriation, but what about land, houses and property that we lost?" he asks.
Acharya's dilemma is not uncommon. In the refugee camps of east Nepal, it is apparent that most Bhutanis are sceptical about the "major breakthrough" of the 15th round of ministerial talks in Thimpu last month. The leader of the Nepali delegation, Bhek Bahadur Thapa, said he had returned "a happy man", but his joy is not shared by most Bhutanis here who have waited over a decade to go home.
"The Thimpu agreement isn't anything new," says Dr Til Bahadur Gurung, camp secretary at Khudunabari. "A timeframe has been set for the completion of repatriation, that's the only new element that I can see." Gurung's ancestral home is Chirang's Lali Kharka in Bhutan, but he has been placed in category II.
For archived material of Nepali Times of the past 20 years, site search: nepalitimes.com