Residents of “welcoming” cities may have noticed in addition to Iraqis and Burmese, the number of Bhutanese (really Nepalese) being resettled has been stepped up. Today I hope to post a series of three posts (second one is here) on recent news about the Bhutanese—a subject we have written about extensively in the past, here, but not much recently.
This is a story from the San Francisco Chronicle a week ago with background on this new group of refugees. Sorry to have to quote so much, but the story is complex. Be sure to read the whole article here.
Oh, and besides informing readers about the Bhutanese it is interesting in light of our recent discussion about the concept of defending one’s culture.
The impressive necklace of cliff-perched fortresses that dot this Himalayan nation’s mountainous perimeter are a testimony to Bhutan’s long-standing effort to keep out foreigners.
In the 1980s, however, the tiny Buddhist nation of just 600,000 sandwiched between the People’s Republic of China and India found itself with what it considered to be a foreigner problem.
Bhutan’s minority population of ethnic Nepalese had mushroomed to represent one-third of the population, causing then-King Jigme Singye Wangchuck to start a “one nation, one people” policy to deport and strip many of their Bhutanese citizenship. The campaign ended with the expulsion of about 105,000 Nepalese through beatings, torture and murder committed by the Royal Bhutan Army that lasted until the early 1990s, human rights groups and deportees say.
So, the Nepalese came to be in Bhutan because they had come across the border originally illegally from Nepal; Bhutan eventually cracked down and wanted to keep its unique Buddhist culture and put in motion a plan to push some of the Nepalese out of the country. Instead of going back to Nepal they went into India and then were trucked back to Nepal, to camps.
About 105,000 Nepalese eventually crossed into India, where they were trucked to seven camps in eastern Nepal under the supervision of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. In Nepal, they have remained stateless, even though they share the same ethnic and cultural background.
Some historians say the backlash was a response to the demographic threat. Others say the monarchy feared anti-royalist and Maoist ideologies that were gaining momentum at the time in Nepal.
Today, about 100,000 ethnic Nepalese still reside in Bhutan, nearly one-sixth of the nation’s population.
A Maoist insurgency has formed in the camps and they go back into Bhutan to organize (like community organizers!) the remaining Nepalese in Bhutan in hopes of overthrowing the democratic government of Bhutan.
Locked in political limbo, these camps have become breeding grounds for a fledgling militancy that seeks to overthrow Bhutan’s monarchy just two years after the king abdicated in favor of his son, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, who heads a constitutional monarchy that permitted the nation’s first democratic elections last year.
“This (insurgency) is something Bhutan needs to be worried about,” said an intelligence official in neighboring India who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media.
Analysts say the Maoist insurgency in Nepal – which ended in 2006 – inspired Bhutanese refugees after Nepal’s King Gyanendra was forced to abdicate and a new government formed with former rebels.
The ideological affinity with the Nepalese Maoists is evident in the literature the Bhutanese militants disseminate and the similar names they use to describe their movement: the Communist Party of Bhutan, Tiger Forces, the United Revolutionary Front of Bhutan and United Refugee Liberation Army.
“We are preparing a protracted people’s war,” said a 27-year-old leader of the Communist Party of Bhutan.
Enter the NGO’s who busy themselves mucking around in other countries politics, and always eager for more refugees to be resettled in the West. In all the articles I have read about this group of refugees, not once have I heard anyone say that maybe Nepal could just take its ethnic Nepalese back—they share the same religion, speak the same language and generally share the same culture! Oh no, let’s just ship them off to live on welfare in crime-ridden cities in the West (next post!).
Bill Frelick, refugee policy director for Human Rights Watch, says the insurgents, who are believed to number between 600 and 1,000, are still too weak to launch an effective revolution. But other analysts say the alliance with militant Indians, the continuing relocation of refugees and recruiting forays into Bhutan are worrisome signs.
In 2006, the United States and a handful of other Western countries offered to resettle more than 70,000 Nepalese refugees. About 7,000 have already left the camps and the rest will be gone within four years, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
The UN and the NGO’s told our US State Department (Ellen Sauerbrey at the time) to jump and we did. The US has promised to take 60,000 Bhutanese (really Nepalese) over the next 5 years.
The Maoists have been fighting to keep their fellow Nepalese in the camps. But, there could be a silver lining for the Maoists if people are resettled. Is Frelick now having a little remorse about pushing resettlement?
Frelick said the insurgents could take advantage of the resettlement program by using future remittances to buy weapons and having camps void of more restrained voices. “You could end up with all the more moderate people leaving the camps,” he said.
Wouldn’t it have made more sense to let Bhutan and Nepal work this out themselves instead of letting NGO’s and the UN micro-manage every dispute over territory and culture in every tiny corner of the world?