04/15/2011, 00.00
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Kathmandu: Bhutanese prime minister to discuss the issue of 50,000 refugees in exile

by Nirmala Carvalho
In a meeting with Nepali Prime Minister Khanal, Lyonchhen Jigmi Y Thinley opens the door to a dialogue over the possible repatriation of Bhutanese refugees. The refugees however do not believe him. The prime minister has always hailed the level of happiness of the Bhutanese people, but has ignored the fact that 20 per cent lives in exile.
Kathmandu (AsiaNews) – Bhutan and Nepal might talk about the repatriation of more than 50,000 Bhutanese refugees, who have been languishing in refugee camps for more than 20 years, this according to reports stemming from a meeting between Nepali Prime Minister Jhala Nath Khanal and his Bhutanese counterpart, Lyonchhen Jigmi Y Thinley who is on an official visit in Nepal until Sunday to boost economic and political ties ahead of the next summit of the South Asian Association For Regional Cooperation (SAARC).

According to Vidhyapati Mishra, a Bhutanese dissident who heads the Bhutan Media Society, this visit will not change the refugees’ situation. Most of them are sceptical, very disappointed with the Bhutanese government, whose policy has always been to ignore them.

“This is not the first time that Prime Minister Thinley makes an official visit to Nepal, “Mishra said. “In the past too, he discussed the refugee problem with the government in Kathmandu, but his words have never been followed by action.” By contrast, the activist believes that only India, Bhutan’s main trading partner, could convince the government in Timphu to repatriate the refugees.

Between 1977 and 1991, Bhutan expelled more than 80,000 Bhutanese of Nepali origin during a Bhutanisation campaign launched by King Singye Wangchuck. The goal was to create a nation free from foreign influences.

Despite recent moves towards democracy, the Bhutanese government continues to reject refugee repatriation, forcing the international community to move them to third countries.

Mishra said that Prime Minister Thinley and King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck have focused on the concept of gross national happiness, ignoring the fact that 20 per cent of the country's population has been in exile for more than 20 years.

“How can Bhutan say that all its citizens are happy when over 100,000 citizens have been living a hard life as refugees in various countries,” he said.

For the activist, statements by the Bhutanese authorities that resettlement is the only humanitarian solution, for which they have been grateful to the international community, is “without any logic” because it means that Bhutan “wants its citizens to remain forever refugees.”

For 15 times, Bhutan has rejected requests made by the Nepali government to start talks on repatriation, claiming that terrorists are hiding among the refugees, dismissing appeals and open letters signed by human rights activists and associations.

For Mishra, Kathmandu should be more decisive in presenting its case; it should force Bhutanese authorities to follow through with the talks. It should also allow India to be involved to find a lasting solution to the long-standing stalemate.

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See also
Bhutanese PM in Nepal, deaf to appeal by 50,000 refugees
International community takes in 20,000 refugees from Bhutan
Nepal: Bhutanese Prime Minister refuses to meet with refugees from his country
Victory by the People's Democratic Party gives hope to refugees in Nepal
Bhutan ready to negotiate the repatriation of 50,000 refugees from Nepal


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