Thursday, September 04, 2014

Transitional Justice and Displacement: The Way Forward

Fathima Azmiya Badurdeen

Increasing efforts have been taken to incorporate displacement into the transitional justice agenda. It is an acknowledged fact that transitional justice measures can support durable solutions. Bradley (2012) highlights this link as follows:
‘Displacement is intrinsically linked to the abuses transitional justice processes seek to address. Crimes such as torture, rape and the killing of friends and family are almost invariably followed by survivors’ flight, whether for weeks, years or generations. In some cases, forcing people to flee their homes represents a grave violation in its own right. And yet, refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) have often been relegated to the sidelines in efforts to deal with past injustices through measures such as trials, truth commissions, and restitution and compensation programs. Scores have been denied the opportunity to participate in transitional justice mechanisms, while others have found these processes to be out of step with their most pressing concerns. In recent years, however, transitional justice processes have increasingly opened up to the involvement of displaced persons, and have taken steps to address the crime of forced migration and the injustices at its root. From restitution efforts in the former Yugoslavia and Tajikistan to truth commissions in Timor-Leste and trials in the Hague, it is becoming increasingly clear that transitional justice can make a modest, contingent, but nonetheless significant contribution to upholding accountability and providing redress for forced migration and advancing solutions to the displacement of refugees and IDPs’.

Increasingly, academic have been focusing there attention to the links between transitional justice and displacement. Famous initiative on exploring this link has been the Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement. This has been a collaborative project between the International Center for Transitional Justice and Brookings-LSE Project. Organizations such as the Refugee Law Project at Makarere University in Kampala have been playing a leading role in investigating and advocating for the effective incorporation of displacement into transitional justice processes in Africa. Further, this has been an emerging topic at conferences such as the 15th IASFM Conference and the 25th IPRA Conference.

Initiative that intend to bride the relationship of transitional justice processes and displacement need to transform structural economic injustices with the consideration of the wider political, social, cultural, and judicial context. The success of such processes depends on the meaningful participation of refugees and IDPs—both men and women. Here the participation by the affected is needed to give a voice to the voiceless. This includes the various categories of the displaced which can effectively address structural injustices that lie at the core as a cause for their displacement. Hovil (2011) states as follows:
‘Neither transitional justice measures nor interventions to resolve displacement by themselves are likely to transform these structural injustices, but in addressing such issues they can a) avoid reinforcing them, b) contribute to long-term change, and c) draw attention to the need for broader reform efforts as well. In this regard, the resolution of displacement, particularly through return, presents both challenges and opportunities’. For example, ‘While women may become more vulnerable when they are forced to become heads of households in exile, it also provides opportunities for the redistribution of resources. A transitional justice framework might also facilitate a far more gender-aware and transformative approach to land restitution during reintegration’.

To sum up, it will be interesting to explore the link of transitional justice and displacement in terms of its space in research agendas. Bradley (2012) highlights, ‘To date, research at the crossroads of these fields has been characterized by remarkable collaboration across regions and disciplines, and between researchers and practitioners. As this agenda moves forward, it will be enriched by a continued commitment to this approach, and to the increased engagement of Southern scholars and critical voices in the debate, which can help ensure that the political interests and power dynamics that shape transitional justice processes are neither underestimated nor overlooked. Ultimately, the challenge is to ensure that the conceptual and empirical insights resulting from the continued evolution of this research agenda translate into the provision in practice of an increased measure of justice for the survivors of conflict and abuse, including those forced to flee their homes’.


Bradley, M. (2012). Critical Reflection: Forced Migration and Transitional Justice – Advancing the Research Agenda. Retrieved from Brookings Website
Hovil, L. (2013). The Nexus between Displacement and Transitional Justice: A Gender-Justice Dimension. Retrieved from

‘Seeking Asylum is a Human Right, Not A Crime’

Today a ground breaking inquiry into the use of immigration detention in the UK has been launched.

Imagine a country where, at the stroke of a pen and without any recourse to a judge, a faceless Government official can deprive someone of their liberty and consign them indefinitely to what to all intents and purposes is a prison, without them having being charged with or convicted of any crime.

That country is Britain. And if you thought that this use of state power was characteristic only of dictatorships or tyrannies, then think again, as it’s happening here, on our doorstep, under our noses, without any fuss and certainly without any publicity.

Today, in 11 Immigration Removal Centres around the UK, people are being detained, with minimal information about what’s happening to them and with scant access to a lawyer. And yet they’ve neither been accused, nor found guilty of, any wrongdoing. In fact, all that they’ve done is to have the temerity to exercise their legal right to seek refugee protection in the UK.

These are people who have fled persecution in their home countries and are deeply traumatised by their experiences. Some will be torture or rape survivors, others will have witnessed harm inflicted on their families and friends, many will have been incarcerated and brutalised.

We know from countless personal testimonies and independent medical reports that, for many of those held in detention in the UK, the experience triggers harrowing memories of the fear and the pain they’ve suffered at the hands of their previous captors. Unsurprisingly, this treatment more often than not undermines their mental or physical stability, a consequence further exacerbated by the lack of any meaningful judicial oversight, which means that the authorities are rarely ever required to explain or account for their decisions to detain.

See for more:

Return to Sri Lanka of Individuals Intercepted at Sea

UNHCR is deeply concerned by Australia's announcement today that it has returned some 41 asylum-seekers to Sri Lanka after having intercepted them at sea, as well as the fate of a further 153 asylum-seekers of Sri Lankan origin who are now subject to an Australian High Court injunction on their return.

UNHCR understands that "enhanced screening procedures" were used as a basis for determining whether the 41 individuals involved raised claims for protection which required further consideration. Without further information UNHCR is not in a position, at this time, to confirm whether they were in accordance with international law. UNHCR has previously made known its concerns to Australia about its enhanced screening procedures and their non- compliance with international law.

UNHCR's experience over the years with shipboard processing has generally not been positive. Such an environment would rarely afford an appropriate venue for a fair procedure.
The principle of non-refoulement (the prohibition on return to threats to life or freedom) in the 1951 Refugee Convention and more broadly under customary international law is clear: it applies wherever an asylum-seeker is found and to whatever manner the expulsion or return is carried out, including during interception and other sea operations.

See for more:

Hon Alistair Nicholson: "Asylum Seekers: A Disgraceful Episode in Australian History”

Former Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia and current Chair of Children's Rights International, the Hon Alistair Nicholson, has criticised both sides of politics in Australia for implementing indefensible policies towards asylum seekers. His speech at a Refugee Week event in Melbourne also condemned the decision by Immigration Minister Scott Morrison to cut the Refugee Council of Australia's core funding.

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New RCOA Paper Highlights the Strengths within Refugee Communities

A new RCOA paper on the role of refugee community organisations in the settlement of new arrivals highlights the extent of the contribution these community organisations make. Titled “The Strength Within”, the 14-page paper casts light on the often unnoticed and overwhelmingly voluntary work conducted by refugee community organisations in fostering social participation, economic and personal wellbeing, independence, life satisfaction and community connections. The paper profiles the work of five community organisations and canvasses the collective challenges such organisations face.

Se for more:

The Council of Europe Takes Strides on Combatting Violence against Women

Jutta Seidel and Gert Westerveen in Strasbourg, France

STRASBOURG, France, July 31 (UNHCR) – The UN refugee agency on Thursday warmly welcomed the entry into force of a Council of Europe convention aimed at preventing and countering violence against women and domestic violence.

The Istanbul Convention, which came into force on Thursday, requires state parties to ensure that gender-based violence against women may be recognized as a form of persecution and to ensure that the grounds for asylum listed in the 1951 Refugee Convention are interpreted in a gender-sensitive manner. This is the first time that gender-related persecution is explicitly mentioned in an international convention.

"The Istanbul Convention is designed to become a global protection tool because non-European states can also accede to the convention," said Gert Westerveen, UNHCR's representative to the Council of Europe. "All states should accede to it and implement it," he added.

The convention requires state parties to adopt legislative and practical measures to prevent and combat violence against women, as well as to coordinate measures through comprehensive policies. It establishes an obligation to introduce gender-sensitive procedures, guidelines and support services in the asylum process.

Some states, when applying the 1951 Refugee Convention, fail to acknowledge a gender-sensitive dimension, which may result in inconsistent asylum decisions and deprive many women and girls of international protection.

The Istanbul Convention also reiterates the obligation to respect the principle of non-refoulement requiring that countries adopt measures to ensure that female survivors of violence are not returned to any country where their lives would be at risk or where they may be subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Sexual- and gender-based violence (SGBV) affects mostly women and girls, and the forcibly displaced are especially at risk. Many of their asylum claims involve fear of gender-based persecution, including trafficking for sexual and labour exploitation, forced marriage, forced sterilization, female genital mutilation, the threat of "honour" crimes, sexual violence and rape.
In June, UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie co-chaired a global summit in London, United Kingdom, on ending sexual violence in conflict, helping to put a spotlight on the issue and galvanize public support. Last year, some 12,000 SGBV incidents were reported to UNHCR in 43 countries. One can assume much higher numbers given the many obstacles faced by survivors in reporting their ordeal.

See for more:

The 15TH Conference of the International Association for the Study of Forced Migration

15 – 18 July 2014, Bogota, Colombia
The International Association for the Study of Forced Migration is a platform for academics, practitioners and decision-makers, working on issues of forced migration. It has been organizing biennial international conferences since 1996. This year, the IASFM 15 was hosted by the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Bogota, Colombia.

The conference had the following Plenary Sessions

1.Voices from the displaced people
2.Forced migration within the framework of the Colombian peace process agenda”
3.Forced Displacement in Peace Times: China's Policies and Experience in Development-caused Involuntary Resettlement
4.Towards an ethic and democratic governance of forced migration: Perspective from the Migration and Peace International Forum

Besides the Plenary Sessions, there were parallel sessions each day on different themes

1.La Declaración de Cartagena 30 años después frente a la relación entre el refugio y la paz en Colombia
2.The New Frontier: Organised Crime and Forced Migration in Mexico
3.Forecasting shifting patterns of displacement
4.Sanctuary Without Refugee Camps: Understanding Protection Needs
5.Critical engagements with the role of Humanitarianism in durable solutions for forced migrants
6.Gentrificación y migracion urbana. Caso San Martin de Porres
7.Casos de estudio sobre la afectación y restablecimiento de los derechos de la población migrante. Retos de las políticas públicas
8.Justice for Gender-Based Violence in the Context of Migration?: Illustrations from in Mexico and Canada
9.Forced Migration State Policies
10.Políticas nacionales de asilo y refugio
11.Desplazamiento Forzado, Retorno, Resistencia y Reparación en Colombia
12.National and Regional Responses to Crisis Migration in the Americas
13.Sanctuary Without Refugee Camps: Alternative Solutions
14.Space matters: Contrasting integration experiences of recent refugees by social and political sites.
15.Researching the durability of durable solutions: The challenges of longitudinal research and the translation of evidence for policy on refugee resettlement
16.Syrian Forced Exodus: A new protection challenge
17.Éxodos forzados en territorios de frontera
18.Respuestas a los refugiados haitianos
19.Development-Displacement in Latin America: Why So Little Research?
20.Conflict, other situations of violence and the protection granted under the 1951 Refugee Convention and Cartagena Declaration
21.Transitional Justice and Forced Migration –Substantive Links
22.Children and Forced Migration: Durable Solutions during Transient Years
23.Demography of Refugee and Forced Migration
24.Construcción de soluciones sostenibles en Colombia
25.Not just victims: Forced migrants resistance strategies
26.Integration as a durable solution
27.Respuestas regionales a la migración forzada
28.Redes sociales y espacios de protección de las personas en situación de desplazamiento. La complejidad de la búsqueda de soluciones duraderas para la construcción de la paz
29.Advancing Peace and Addressing Forced Migration Through eLearning: Using Online Course Instruction, Ongoing Professional Development, and Continuing Education for Peacebuilding and Protecting the Rights of Forced Migrants
30.Framing identities and regarding rights: Reconciliation in post War Sri Lanka
31.In a strange land: Forced migrants experiences
32.Resettlement: Challenges and opportunities
33.Más que víctimas: estrategias de resistencia de los migrantes forzados
34.Return as durable solution
35.Desplazamiento por causas ambientales
36.Transitional Justice and forced migrations
37.Complex forced migration scenarios
38.Vulnerable groups: Protection challenges.
39.Dejar el desplazamiento atrás: Condiciones necesarias para las soluciones duraderas
40.Los olvidados: poblaciones vulnerables en éxodo
41.“Is Displacement – a state of exception”?: Issues and Perspectives in Forced Migration
42.Red Americana de Migraciones Forzadas y II Conferencia Regional Humanitaria.
43.The Role of Human Rights Norms in Regional Refugee Protection Regimes: A Comparison of Two Regions
44.A theoretical approach to the forced migration.
45.Leaving displacement behind: Conditions for durable solutions (I)
46.Miradas al desplazamiento forzado en Colombia
47.Alternative approaches to forced migration
48.National and International Tribunals: A scenario of protection.
49.Screening for Conflict and Asylum Related Sexual Violence – and its implications for Justice & Durable Solutions
50.Racism and Xenophobia: still present
51.Leaving behind the displacement: Conditions for durable solutions (II)
52.Forced Migrations and the Construction of Humanitarian Protection in Brazil – durable lessons to be learned by other States in the Region
53.Forced Migration in peace time

Abstracts for the papers presented can be found here:

Exploring the Case of Protracted Displacement and Transitional Justice in Sri Lanka

Fathima Azmiya Badurdeen and Anuradha Gunerathne

In Sri Lanka, the twenty six year old conflict between the government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have result in massive waves of displacement. Attributed to these waves of displacement are the massive human rights violations such as arbitrary arrests, torture, rape and killings. Controversial debates also surround on the context of whether certain waves of displacement were intentional and constitute a war crime (Human Rights Report 10). Within this context includes violations associated with displacement along with specific abuses of rights associated to durable solutions (Yoshikawa 5-6). Amidst these contexts, it becomes futile to address transitional justice without addressing the human rights violations of the displaced. For, transitional justice incorporates the addressing of legacies of massive human rights abuses that occur during armed conflicts which includes the displaced, as well as the rights of the displaced in the context of durable solutions.

Linking transitional justice with displacement is important as many countries that pursue transitional justice mechanisms/processes have many displaced populations. Displacements results in forcibly being evicted from one’s home and society and are unable to return to their original homes and lives. This, forcible being displaced or uprooted from their homes against their will are human rights violations. Apart from this, they also face human rights violations in the process of flight such as loosing lies, loss of property, disappearances, gender-based violence, torture or arbitrary detention. In addition, they may also face human rights violation in the camps and in the process of attaining durable solutions: as in the right to return to their origins, or in the process of integration in the place of displacement or in the place of relocation. All these human rights violations need to be addressed if transitional justice processes are to be effective (Duthie 38).

Much attention has been given to return as a durable solution for the displaced. This has been true even in the Sri Lankan context. Government initiatives towards displacement such as the 180 day project focused on return as a durable solution for the displaced. These top-down approaches towards displacement (Badurdeen 2-3) is not always the best or possible solution for the displaced in protracted contexts (Badurdeen 29) as preferences of the displaced vary as in the case of Northern Muslim IDPs in Puttalam District or protracted IDPs from the Tellipallai High Security Zone in Jaffna or Sampur High Security/Economic Zone in Trincomalee. Further, those IDPs who have chosen a particular durable solution such as return, integration or relocation are far from achieving durable solutions in line with the Guiding Principles of Internal Displacement (GPID).

There are various push and pull factors that influence IDP choices on durable solutions in Sri Lanka. These include ownership of land, accumulated assets, social relations, emotional attachments, economic status, availability of resources, levels of assistance for different options of durable solutions and pressure from government officials and political leaders etc. The context can be further complicated for protracted IDPs who see choices differently due to their prolonged stay in the place of refuge and looks forth for a choice if a mixed option (Badurdeen 30). Ferris highlights that IDP settlement preferences vary based on their personal or family experiences, traumatic experiences or circumstances of war. Hence some may not return due to such experiences and may prefer to integrate. Even if they do return, their reintegration process is not facilitated nor their past atrocities faced are not addressed, nor compensated resulting in vulnerability to abuse if they do return and bringing within them the feeling that they have suffered injustice (3-6).

The term reintegration is often associated to return, as the displaced have to be reintegrated into their respective communities. As highlighted in Gunerathna and Badurdeen in their case study from two villages in North (Allaipiddy) and North East (Karukamuani) in Sri Lanka, reintegration was a long term process in which returnees need to be incorporated within the social, political, economic and cultural aspects of their communities if their rights are to be addressed and reconciliation to take place (17-18).

Restitution of property and reparations are central issues for the displaced who are longing for durable solution (Ferris 8). Reparations can facilitate integration and re-integration into their respective communities thereby enabling sustainability of the integration/re-integration process. This can be in the form of property restitution, compensation and other benefits that can help rebuild their livelihoods (Cantor 4-5). The International Organization of Migration (IOM), highlights the importance of reparation programmes in attaining durable solutions for the displaced mainly in the context of facilitating voluntary return. Reparations have the ability to provide material remedies/redress by recognizing the injustices faced by the displaced (Ibid, IOM) as well as increase the range of choices by the displaced in the process of return. This will enable effective re-integration in the place of origin (Gunerathne and Badurdeen 17-18).

In Sri Lanka, the lack of appropriate IDP figures and relevant data of the displaced have complicated the process of reparations mainly in terms of restitution of property. This includes complications in recognizing returnee land deeds – where some don’t have deeds, some have deeds but others have settled in these lands and are registered voters (Charles, P as cited in IRIN 2013). As highlighted by Badurdeen, prior to displacement many of the families in Sampur, Trincomalee were engaged in fishing as their livelihood. Today, with the restrictions they were engaged in farming in government lands. Some families who received land did not have enough land for cultivation as there was an increase in need for land in the area. These displaced families were not comfortable with their new livelihood as less land meant less output and needed assistance in rebuilding their lives (15). This context is an example for the failure for reparation measures by the government of Sri Lanka. Other aspects that hinder the reparation process include the ineffectiveness of policy plans. Even with mechanisms available such as the Rehabilitation of Persons, Properties and Industries Authority (REPPIA), IDPs do not receive adequate compensation for loss of or damage to houses, livestock, livelihood equipment and other assets.

In such contexts, truth commissions can aid in making recommendations on reparations and restitution programmes taking into account the particular needs of the displaced for economic re-integration. The Citizen Commission in Puttalam is commendable in this sense that have taken up the issue of the protracted IDPs of Puttalam District that have resulted in an indepth understanding of the plight of the displaced through the use of narratives where they have looked into the plight of the displaced and also the host communities in terms of resettlement assistance, assistance to the poor host community (Citizen Commission para 3-8).

In cases of mass displacement, like in the last phase of the Sri Lankan conflict, the larger numbers do pose a practical constraint for material reparation. Even in such contexts, there is a need to look into their displaced nature and benefits distributed to the actual needs of the displaced. Further, the benefits need to be tailored to address particular needs. As highlighted by Duthie, collective reparations may be appropriate if reparations may be appropriate if reparations cannot cater on individual basis. While reparations differ from individual to individual basis and is the best, collective reparations can be easily administered based on geographic and community responses (143). Reparations can also play an important role for women, especially for female headed household for their economic wellbeing of their families as in the case of the North and the North East wherein the most of the female headed households as a result of the war resides.

As evident in the above discussions, transitional justice can have a positive contribution to durable solutions by facilitating the processes of integration and reintegration. This involves not only the displaced but also the communities into which they fled and the communities into which they are integrating or reintegrating as in the case of Northern Muslim IDPs in Puttalam or IDPs of Sampur who have lost their lands to HSZ/SEZs. The success of transitional justice processes are dependent on factors such as the actions taken by the government in aiding such processes, the actions taken by the displaced and dynamics of the society wherein all factors of human rights violations of the past are connected. The aspect of gender in transitional justice processes along with effective participation of the displaced is important if it is to remain effective. Transitional justice mechanisms can facilitate durable solutions in the long run. While it is evident that there are significant challenges to be met in addressing durable solutions, acknowledging the link between transitional justice and durable solutions are vital for sustainable post war development.


Badurdeen, Fathima. Azmiya. IDP Resettlement in Post Conflict Sri Lanka: Assessing the
Evidence-based context of the Resettlement Process with particular emphasis on IDP
Participation. Refugee Watch No.41. Kolkata: MCRG. 2013. Print.
Badurdeen, Azmiya. Conditions for Sustainable Return: A Study from the District of
Trincomalee, Sri Lanka. Kolkata: MCRG. 2011. Print.
Badurdeen, Azmiya. Ending Internal Displacement: the long term IDP’s in Sri Lanka. Oxford: RSC. 2010. Print.
Duthie, Roger. Transitional Justice and Displacement. 2012. NY: Brookings. Print.
Gunerathne, Anuradha and Badurdeen Azmiya. Internally Displaced Persons in the Process of Human Rights Watch. War on the LTTE Abuses against Civilians in the Vanni. 2009. 2 Feb. 2014.
IRIN. Analysis: Prospects for Reconciliation in Sri Lanka. 2010. Web. 6 Feb. 2014.
IRIN. Sri Lanka’s Long Term IDPs – what next? 2013. Web. 7 Jan. 2014.
The Citizens’ Commission. Inclusions in the Lessons Learnt and the Reconciliation Commission Final Report. 2010. Web. 7 Dec. 2013.
Yoshikawa, Lynn. Sri Lanka: Transitioning from a Humanitarian Crisis to a Human Rights
Crisis. 2013. 2 Feb. 2014.

Reconciliation in Sri Lanka: Voices from Former War Zones

Minna Thaheer Pradeep Peiris and Kasun Pathiraja

Study of this book is an effort at understanding the post-war reconciliation process as experienced by the different communities in the war-affected villages in the North and East of Sri Lanka. Since May 2009, ‘reconciliation’ has been an abiding concern for all concerned with the future trajectory of the post-war Sri Lanka. ‘Reconciliation’ is defined, understood and constructed in diverse ways by the stakeholders involved. Of these actors, the State, the Tamil National Alliance and the International Community seem to agree on reconciliation in principle but they differ significantly and at times irreconcilably on its substantive meaning. This complicates an already complex and fraught situation. In this context, this book attempts to give voice to the voiceless by contributing to the bourgeoning discourse on reconciliation in Sri Lanka. This research was an endeavor to understand the many interpretations or renditions of reconciliation as seen through the living experiences of people whose lives were shattered by a war that was not of their making. If anything has survived the conflict of three decades it is their hopes to live in dignity in their own land. Whatever, definition that is given to reconciliation, it remains a proposition that looks at the future.

This study used a pluralist research methodology comprising a series of in-depth interviews and dialogue sessions with communities in the former war zones combined with a survey of 600 respondents in six districts in the North and East. The findings of the study are presented in six chapters in order to capture the multi-dimensional nature of reconciliation on the ground. The analysis in this book has been informed by and will inform the work of scholars who, through rigorous and dedicated scholarly interventions, strive to build a just and democratic society in Sri Lanka.

Organizing for Exile through Self-Help! The Tibetan Narrative

Sudeep Basu

Unlike the rehabilitation strategy for the permanent agricultural settlements in Southern India which were built at the behest of the Tibetan Government-in-exile in Dharamsala and the Government of India, the Tibetan Refugee Self Help Centre (TRSHC) which came up in Darjeeling town, India, in 1959, emerged spontaneously and autonomously with the idea that no refugee could ever be rehabilitated in the fullest sense of the word without “Self-Help”, a realization that this “vital element could only come from within the community from within one’s selves”. And this vital element could only come from within the own community (mi sde) from within one’s selves.” This sums up in categorical terms not only the orientation of the inhabitants of TRSHC to life in exile as a whole but also provides a glimpse of the form and the limits to the relationship which they intend to forge with their hosts; other diasporic members of their ethnic group, Non-Governmental Organizations and the State. What began as the labeling of target groups – in this case the Tibetan as ‘refugees’ who are recipients of aid led on the one hand to client conformity and loyalty with the institutionally imposed stereotype and on the other to a gradual transformation of the identity expressed through the adoption of Goffman-like metaphors to describe alienating feelings like “we are foreigners here”; by asserting individuality and by not remaining acquiescent.

A ten-member committee was formed in Darjeeling to organize a rehabilitation centre which came to be known as the Tibetan Refugee Self Help Centre. Over time, the TRSHC has acquired a simple administrative structure consistent with its ethos of self-help, unlike the administrative structure seen in the Tibetan settlements in south India.

The initial fund for setting up the TRSHC was raised locally by subscriptions, donations, charity shows and an exhibition football match. This was augmented shortly afterwards from contributions by a number of voluntary agencies through the Central Relief Committee notably CARE, Catholic Relief Services, American Emergency Committee for Tibetan Refugees, National Christian Council, The Red Cross, World Veterans Federation, American Friends Committee, Church World Service as well as several individuals. With the reception of this aid, the Tibetans who fled from Tibet back then gradually became labeled as refugees. Their ambivalent response to relief programmes in the subsequent years came through in that with client-group compliance and dependency there has also been indifference in the refugees’ reactions to the relief programmes arising out of the resultant perceived loss of status and dignity of the group. Situated at “Hill-side” Lebong West in the area locally known as “Hermitage”, the Tibetan Refugee Self Help Centre in Darjeeling town is one of the oldest refugee centres in the Tibetan Diaspora. This refugee settlement came into existence on October 2nd 1959. It initially provided base for distribution of emergency relief to Tibetan refugees who had brought nothing with them apart from the clothes they wore and the little provisions they managed to bring along during their hazardous trek over the Himalayas into India. The “Hill-side”, a small estate comprising 3.44 acres was originally leased and eventually bought from St Joseph’s College. There was space to build and develop a small community outside the town but easily approachable by motor road. The Hill-side had a special significance for Tibetans, for it was here that the Thirteenth Dalai Lama had spent his exile in India between 1910-1912 following the Chinese invasion of Tibet at that time.

The refugees who chose to stay in the Refugee Centre and other settlements were those who were not in a capacity to establish themselves privately mainly due to the lack of capital. The rest preferred to stay in the town but remained connected to TRSHC. The visible success in charting out a career in exile became a source of worry for the refugees and produced caution in their management of social relations. For they knew that their achievement did create what they often say, feelings of “jealousy, envy and deprivation” among locals. Previously, the Tibetans were sore about the Gorkhaland movement precisely because it had severely affected their economy which principally depended on tourism (Subba 1987-88). The sheer numerical majority of the Nepalis must have dissuaded them from any intention of opposing the Movement. In recent times, the All Gorkha Student’s Union (AGSU) has on few occasions vociferously expressed their resentment to the emerging domination of Tibetan refugees in the region and their alleged or surreptitious use of Voters’ Identity cards for gaining employment or commerce. Four Tibetan youths interpreting the relation between Tibetans and Nepalis, hasten to add that “Nepalis think good about Tibetans, they want to make friends with us; Nepali girls nowadays want to get friendly with Tibetan boys because they think we have a lot of money (dngul). They are in a majority, there is no point avoiding them.” For Tibetan refugees, sensitivity to potentially hostile feelings of locals is deemed crucial in order to maintain peace and order. It enables them to gain self-confidence and avoid potential conflict, by invoking an ideal image of a “non-violent Tibetan refugee”. On examining this canvas one can also assert that the movement of Tibetan refugees, unlike their Bhutia co-ethnics remains incomplete, rendering the refugee community’s relationship to Darjeeling tentative and precarious. What is also at work in these forms of social action is the process of ‘re-territorialization’ as Tibetan refugee groups faced with a protracted exile condition attempt to delimit and influence relationships with ‘others’ over a geographic area (Darjeeling town). This process assumes significance in places like Darjeeling where the rights of access to and use of, sources of livelihood are apportioned on the basis of territorially anchored identity. The unfolding Tibetan-host relationship characterized by conjunction and disjunction relative to local circumstances makes it possible to appreciate the significance that the Tibetans attribute to their refugee identity and the ‘spatial practices’ by means of which the Tibetans produce and maintain a sense of ‘place’ in a contested environment.

The Causes And The Impact Of Domestic Violence Among Bhutanese Refugee Women In Sanischare Refugee Camp

Experiences from the field - Compiled by Gobardhan Niroula

“Domestic violence is not simply an argument. It is a pattern of coercive
control that one person exercises over another. Abusers use physical and
sexual violence, threats, emotional insults and economic deprivation as
a way to dominate their victims and get their way” (Scheter 2008).

Domestic Violence (DV) is a dilemma for many refugee women among the Bhutanese communities of Sanischare camp. In domestic violence, one person (usually the man) controls and dominates the other (usually the woman) precisely by virtue of a series of gender privileges (usually male privileges) which he has at a societal level. A specific characteristic of domestic violence is the victim’s fear of the abuser. Moreover, the abuser is often perceived as all-powerful and all-knowing.The result of DV is a clash, with reciprocal emotions and/or physical abuse, in a continuous fight for dominance among one another.

In the Bhutanese refugee community, women have faced the some form of different domestic violence in their life time. Some women despite facing domestic violence, do not consider violence seriously nor do they report to the authorities. This is mainly because some women think that if they bring their family issues to the public’s attention, it would mess up their social status because society might blame the victim along with the perpetrator. Similarly some women think that it is their destiny that brings violence in their lives and it is the result of their sins committed in their previous life.

Domestic violence also represents a hidden obstacle to economic and social development. By sapping women’s energy, undermining their confidence, and compromising their health, domestic violence deprives society of women’s full participation. Bhutanese women who experienced domestic violence in the family may develop serious emotional, behavioral and developmental problems. They are likely to: use violence at community in response to perceived threats, attempt suicide, to use drugs, commit crimes, especially sexual assault, use violence to enhance their reputation and self esteem, become abusers in later life, easily give up and have low self esteem.

The Main Causes of Domestic Violence Seen in the Sanischare Refugee Camp

Alcoholic family member: Majority of the Bhutanese refugees of Sanischare camp do not have work. Middle aged and school dropout refugee members remain idle inside the camp. Due to the alcoholic habit of a male member, refugee women of Sanischare camps are exposed to domestic violence. UNHCR protection unit and Bhutanese refugee women forum have several worse case scenarios on aforementioned issue. There is no proper monitoring for selling alchohol in Nepal. Due to the uncontrolled alchohalic habit of refugees of Sanischare camp there are several DV cases.

Mixed marriages: In Bhutanese refugee community of Saniscahre camp there are 7% cases of mix marriage. It is the marriage between Bhutanese refugee male and Nepali/Indian female. Resettlment option is pending for the people who did mix marriage after the resettlement program started. BRWF (Bhutanese Refugee Women Forum) Deputy Secretary states that there are couple of cases of domestic violence in mix marriages of sanischare camp where the family members beat and ignore the non refugee spouse because due to ‘her’ the cases of entire family members are on hold for RST process. The victim women does not want to report the DV to the protection unit because she is scared that this can result in divorce with her husband ad she may loose her children and resettlement opportunities.

Dowry related violence: Dowry has become an expected part of the marriage transaction in India and Nepal, with future husband demanding ever-increasing dowry both before and after marriage. Dowry demands can escalate into harassment, threat and abuse. Refugee community of the Sanischare camp is also effected by it. Family members of Nepali male married to the refugee girls is the most significant examples of such violence. Nepali family blames the daughter-in-law that she lacks the status quo and identity in society because she belongs from a refugee family. She cannot be a good mother because she lacks culture, tradition and customs. 40% of the refugee women who were divorced were married to a Nepal male and were victim of domestic violence in her life time due to dowry.

Sex workers: Due to the obligation and to adopt modern life style it is reported that some refugee women work as a sex worker. When she returns to camp she is harassed by her own family members and even sexually harassed by her own community male members.

Trafficking: Back in 2012, two refugee women (who were siblings) were rescued from Brothel from Mumbai, India with the help of local Indian NGO that has been working in human rights sector. When she was brought to the camp many local male men approached them and abused them verbally and sexually. Due to the help of protection unit and BRWF, those two siblings were able to establish their life.

Psychological violence: It is the repeated verbal abuse, harassment, confinement and deprivation of physical, financial and personal resources. Undermining an individual's sense of self esteem can have serious mental and physical health consequences and has been identified as a major reason for suicide. Head of the household giving small amount of money to the female members in order to run a family is the best example seen in the Bhutanese refugee community of Sanischare camp. Or Abusive husband limits the movement of wife inside the camp or imposing strict rule to the wife to make only recoomended friend is another cases seen in the Sanischare camp.

Polygamy: In Sanischare camp it is very common to see the practice of polygamy. During interviews we found both active and inactive polygamy cases. In active polygamy cases of Sanischare camp there are many cases of domestic violence.


Domestic violence has always been a challenge in the refugee community of Sanichare camp. The major issue in DV is the unwillingness of women to report incidents of violence. There were several reasons associated to this: this includes the assumption of masculinity in men. In the Bhutanese refugee context, where men have the provider role, can succumb to violence if this role is taken away. Alcohol use have contributed to domestic violence in Sanischare camps.

Ending domestic violence requires long-term commitment and strategy involving all parts of society. Community based strategies can focus on empowering women, reaching out to men and changing the beliefs and attitude that permit abusive behavior. Addressing the immediate practical needs of women experiencing abuse; providing long-term follow up and assistance; and focusing on changing those cultural norms, attitudes and legal provisions that promote the acceptance of and even encourage violence against women, and undermine women's enjoyment of their full human rights and freedoms.