Bhutani refugees  face extra ‘restrictions’ in India

Kathmandu: Bhutani refugees have been living for about 35 years in Nepal with the hopes to go back to their country as full-fledged citizens, but they are facing more restrictions in terms of their movement across India now.

According to the refugees living in Sanischare and Beldangi refugee camps in eastern Nepal’s Jhapa district bordering Siliguri, the Indian authorities, mainly the Special Surakhsa Bal have abruptly refused to ‘recognise’ the ‘refugee ID’ issued by the Nepal government for the past few months , in effect , putting an undeclared ban on their ‘entry’ in the Indian territory.

Around 86,000 Bhutanese of Nepali origin were forced out of Bhutan way back in 1988 and they entered Nepal through Indian territory after their government put severe restrictions on their cultural and religious activities. Nepal and Bhutan  governments held 15 rounds of talks and as they were going to sit for the next one to decide classifications of the refugees, and facilitate the return of the genuine ones, the talks broke down in 2003 leaving them–their number by then touching around 120,000–stateless.

The talks never resumed after that but an international initiative resulted in the settlement of around 113,000 refugees in different parts of the world including the U S, Canada, Norway, Australia , Switzerland , Britain and New Zealand by the end of 2008,  but another six thousand plus refused to leave the camps hoping their ‘king will get them back to their land’ one day.

‘But as we wait patiently, even the limited rights we used to enjoy until few months ago like crossing over to Siliguri, buy some goods, meet our relatives or even go for medical treatment  have been taken away as the SSB suddenly stopped recognising the refugee ID issued by the Nepal government,’ a refugee from the Sanischare camp told

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Purushottam Dhungel of Pathari-Sanischare camp was more disappointed and angry. “We wanted to go to Ayodhya for the Darshan of Ram Lalla just after the temple was inaugurated in January and other Hindu pilgrimages like Kashi, but our request was turned down”, he said. While an overwhelming size of the refugees left for the third country settlement way back in 2008 and some of them are doing financially well, the refugees have not lost hope to return back one day as Bhutani. “We have petitioned to his Majesty the King to go for a national reconciliation and let the refugees still living in Nepal to be back in the first phase,’ said Dr D N S Dhakal, Chief of the Bhutan National Democratic Party in Exile.

Bhutani refugees constitute more than one fourth of the total population of Bhutan.  A senior Home Ministry official said the ID issued to the Bhutani refugees is the same as it issued to other countries’ refugees including that to the Tibetans living in Nepal numbering around 25,000 for decades. “We have not received any formal complaint by the refugees and our taking it up with any external or internal agencies at the moment does not arise.”

But at political level, there are speculations that the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi chose to visit Bhutan even after the elections were announced indicates that India will not be ignoring the ‘sensitivity’ of Bhutan and what the Bhutani refugees in Nepal are facing could be a manifestation of that.

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