Sahana Basavapatna and Ishita Dey
As we wind up 2011 edition of Refugee Watch Online (RWO), we at RWO realize that this year, like the years before this, has been instructive in more ways than one. While some developments, such as the Australia-Malaysia swap arrangement made us realize how precarious not only the lives of the refugees but also the laws that we dearly hold on to. Closer home, the challenges are equally intimidating; while mechanisms exist, its history, politics and society provide as much of a challenge as it may be conducive for a better deal for refugees in South Asia.
In this last edition of RWO, we want to bring to the forefront some of the challenges facing Nepal, a country that has witnessed prolonged internal conflict. Nepal, a non- signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention or 1967 Refugee Protocol has played the host and transit point to refugee groups, primarily Bhutanese and Tibetans. While the history of Bhutanese refugees in and Tibetans in Nepal is not unknown to us, the challenges these communities face needs some deeper introspection. After 27 years of living in camps in Nepal, the Bhutanese refugee crisis could not be resolved although this period witnessed fifteen rounds of ministerial-level negotiations between Bhutan and Nepal. Thus, finding themselves unwanted in Nepal and losing the right to return, the Bhutanese refugees were offered the Third Country Resettlement option. In 2006, the aggravating Bhutanese Refugee crisis suddenly saw an unexpected turn in the form of the United States of America offering to resettle 60,000 refugees. Similar promises followed from other countries such as Norway, Denmark, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – known as Core Working Group – to take a small share of refugees to their country. The resettlement process began in 2008. Sreeja Balarajan, in her article gives a critical insight to the life of Bhutanese refugees resettled in US. Is third country resettlement a viable solution to those who had dreamed of returning back to their homelands in Bhutan? What does it take to rebuild lives as younger generation gear up for the American dream and the older generation struggle to adapt themselves in a new environment where they find it difficult to adapt as they lack adequate communication skills?
One of the largest communities who have been forced to live a life of exile in South Asian states are the Tibetan refugees. Tibetans have lived in Nepal for decades while some transit through Nepal to travel further south towards India. In the recent times, there have been reports of closure of Reception Centre and Welfare Office of Tibetan refugees as well as arbitrary arrests of Tibetans. In a recent remark, Congressman Mr. Frank Wolf threatened to cut off aid to Nepal if it does not allow Tibetan Refugees to transit to safer places. Tashi Dhundup responds and cautions us that this statement presents Nepal the tough choice to either articulate an independent position on the Tibetan issue or succumb to the pressures of neighbours for other political reasons. Drawing from Nepal’s history of treating Tibetan refugees, it is evident that Nepal has been forced to resort to violent measures to safeguard its diplomatic position in the region.
Both these articles remind us of the challenges that confront of refugee rights practitioners. In what ways can we strengthen legal protection of refugees? While some have been advocating that South Asian states should sign the 1951 Refugee Convention; international and humanitarian agencies working in non-signatory states should also lobby for National legislation to protect and safeguard the rights of the refugees. The concern raised in both these articles need a deeper introspection on the way to respond to people affected by forced displacement in South Asia and beyond.
The editorial collective of 2011 has attempted to bring such concerns. We take this opportunity to thank our readers for their comments and look forward to more engaging contributions and comments from refugee activists, researchers and lawyers in the areas of forced migration in South Asia and beyond in 2012 as well. Please feel free to get in touch with us firstname.lastname@example.org for any clarifications.