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Backgrounder on Bhutanese Refugees

Though repatriation to Bhutan has been the demand of the Bhutanese for a long time, the Third Country Resettlement Program (TCRP) has, however, been considered as an immediate measure to bring relief and minimize their plight. While resettlement to third countries definitely remains a challenge, increasing support for the third country resettlement programme points towards the growing fatigue amongst ethnic Nepalis who are looking for some stability and security in their lives.

Bhutan is in a transitional phase of building democratic norms. But how far the refugee issue will be handled in a democratic way is not clear at this point in time. Bhutan’s new constitution mandates the requirement of Bhutanese citizenship only if both parents are naturalized citizens of Bhutan. Also, no record of imprisonment and criminal activities and no record of opposition to the king are essential clauses for acquiring Bhutanese citizenship. Further, knowledge of Dzongkha (Bhutanese) is an important qualification. These prerequisites clearly indicate that the issue of Bhutanese refuges is deeply entwined with identity, demographic and sociological issues. Solving the refugee issue demands political will on the part of Bhutan, but this is missing as of now.

It is possible that the rise of Maoists could lead to a revamping of Nepal’s policy on refugees. CPN-M and CPB-MLM have enjoyed close ties in the past, and how this political dynamics plays out in the near future will have a bearing on a resolution of the issue. For its part, the Government of India will have to carefully balance its political equations with Nepal on one hand and Bhutan on the other.

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