About 80 thousands Nepali speaking people from southern belt of Bhutan, who fled to Nepal for safe living during early 1990s when the then Bhutanese despotic regime forcefully evicted them, even hadn’t anticipated that they would waste 17 years of horrific lives in eastern division of Nepal as refugees.
But, finally it twisted into a factual trance since the efforts to sort out potential solution of the catastrophe failed one after another at the preliminary phases. The tremendous increase in this population has now reached approximately one hundred and ten thousands, which itself is a big threat to increasing nuisances due to jam-packed living.
Cut-Short in facilities
The UNHCR including other aid agencies provide essential food items, shelter, medical care and education to these refugees. However, facilities being provided to them are not adequate.
The gradual cut-short in the facilities such as ration, medical facilities, kerosene, education aid and allowance for maintenance of the camps’ roofs has almost begun. The replace of kerosene oil with briquette which, it’s claimed, has been reported to be very harmful to normal health, is a better example of how these refugees are leading their vacillating future.
Upendra Acharya, sub-sector head of sector D at Beldangi-II camp is hurrying for distributing ration; however, the coal he has burnt hasn’t yet lighted. “It takes not less than an hour even to cook rice”, Acharya laments.
Bhimawoti Gurung, 65, a resident of Beldangi-I camp, a severe patient of Tuberclouses (TB), is fed-up with blowing the fire to light briquette for making her meal ready. She says that the daily routine of facing such difficulties has pushed back her chronic disease of returning to normalcy.
Despite reach of using electricity, refugees are bound to use such harmful briquette. Citing rise in the price hike, UNHCR cut down its supply in the beginning of 2005.
The most remarkable thing is that the guest, who arrives late, would have to wait empty stomach for hours to take another series of prepared meal. From this reality, it’s easy to detect how sick people in camps are facing troublesome even to boil water for taking drugs.
On the other side, refugee students are bound to opt for early bed despite giving time to their studies especially during the night time. Actually, the camp people are strictly prohibited from using electricity.
Supply of just half liter of kerosene oil to a family, whether small or joint, for at least seven days is not enough even to light candle. As a result, the academic performance of students under 10th grade has dramatically fallen down.
Tulashi Ram Kafley, 12, who scored second position in 5th grade last year, has now failed in most of the subjects in this year’s final examination. The reason is— such brainy refugee students really lack other alternatives to study during the night time.
Jamuna Karki, Principal of Tri-Ratna Secondary School, a secondary level school run in Bhutanese refugee camp, Beldangi-II, also accepts that there is drastic fall in the academic result of students due to lack of kerosene oil.
The Asian Medical Doctors’ Association (AMDA), which has been rendering its medical care assistance to these refugees, has now cut-off most of the facilities. Refugees with chronic diseases are dieing inside huts even without being referred to better hospitals.
Bhima woti Ghale, 55, cancer victim, who was just referred only to Koshi Zonal Hospital, Biratnagar (A local hospital), died at home without seeing better drugs to cure her disease.
The shortage of adequate space for normal living, especially for joint family is yet another problem. No drop of rain drops out of roofs of the tent-like huts during the rainy seasons.
With the run of time, there is rise in mental dejection and frustration within individual refugees. The elongated stay under the plastic canopy with hesitant future has even led to the augment in suicide cases. The frequent attempts to suicide considering the unimproved lives in refugee camps have now become normal subjects.
These refugees, on the other side, lack income sources as they aren’t allowed to work legally in the host country. Actually, they are not allowed to leave camps without permission of Refugee Coordination Unit (RCU). However, most of the educated youths are working as a teacher in different private boarding schools in Nepal.
Dick Bir Mahat is amongst hundreds of such youths, currently working as English teacher in Sunrise Boarding School Lahan, a local area nearby the refugee camp. “I haven’t disclosed my identity to the school authority. I have fear of being expelled from my temporary job when the authority knows that I am a refugee”, Mahat says.
From his earning of about 4,000 Nepalese Rupees (Rs), he also manages basic expenses for his Graduation degree, which most of the refugee youths do.
Ran Bahadur Bhattarai served as a general teacher at secondary level school in refugee camps from the beginning of 1999 until 2005. Now, he is working as a resource teacher in one of the renowned schools in Kathmandu, denies revealing the name of the school, since he couldn’t see any alternatives to pursue his higher education while serving with just 1,375 Rs, first grade incentive, in camp schools.
Bhattarai, who has disclosed his identity to school authority, says that the school where he works is run by international mission. “I think quality is one of the influential factors that don’t bar refugees from getting any sorts of jobs”, Bhattarai adds. The bitter reality is—besides his whole day engagement in the school, he has to regularly attend his classes of Master’s degree in Education faculty at Tri-vhuwan University, evening session. Harka, his junior brother is also depending upon his earning for his Graduation degree in science and technology.
Polarisation in refugees
Citing the unfeasibility of early repatriation, the US and other several countries including the refugees’ chief aiding agency, UNHCR has almost begun hinting the package of third country exodus.
Since from the time when the third country resettlement package is brought-up it provoked faction within refugees; individual’s opinion can be distinctly seen divided into different forms. The literate youths’ circles are running behind third country resettlement. The other elderly, illiterate groups are still willing to get repatriated as they say they have sweated a lot to bring Bhutan into present state.
Leading political and apolitical organizations and majority of refugees have repeatedly criticized such moves claiming that the option of third country resettlement would not furnish entire justice to the stalemate.
A query, why America despite exerting pressure over Druk dictator to take back its citizens is encouraging these refugees in allowing the US land to relocation? always exists.
The history clearly reveals that during early 1990s when these people were forcefully evicted from the Himalayan Kingdom, Bhutan imposed ‘Security Acts’ which resulted into gross violation of even fundamental rights. Not only was this, hundreds of innocent youths lost their lives despite innocence. The similar numbers of people from southern belt were imprisoned and inhumanly tortured.
Still significant figures of southern residents are missing inside Bhutanese jails. The whereabouts of dozens is yet unknown. Many women and young ladies were attempted to death after gang rape in front of all family members by Bhutanese security forces.
Even today, neither any foreign human rights activists nor other international bodies are allowed to probe the ongoing ‘silent state terrorism’ inside the country. Press freedom, a milestone to democratization, is strictly under government threat, which shows that people inside the country, especially in southern division, are bound to remain within the periphery of sternly imposed laws.
These refugees are leading their uncertain lives without knowing for how long they would be fed by aid agencies such as the UNCHR. It would be too early to show optimism towards returning homeland as Bhutan is still hatching conspiracies to derail the repatriation process.
[The Writer, T P Mishra, Editor of Bhutan News Service is president of Third World Media Network – Bhutan Chapter]