Updated on January
far, Bhutan has demonstrated its enigmatic and unpredictable
character over the refugee issue. Although after a decade
of uncertainty, it finally agreed to form the Joint Verification
Team (JVT). The governments of Bhutan and Nepal after a protracted
negotiations held since 1993 finally formed a
Joint Verification Team (JVT) to determine the status of Bhutanese
refugees, a realistic resolution of the Bhutanese refugee
issue is still far off. The Tenth Nepal-Bhutan Joint Ministerial
Level Committee Talk (JMLCT paved the way for creation of
a Nepal-Bhutan refugee Joint Verification Team (JVT).
There were around
110, 800 (
refugee families) Bhutanese refugees in the seven refugee camps as on
October 2002 as per
UNHCR STATISTICAL YEAR BOOK 2001 –
ANNEX A.6. The UNHCR Statistical Year Book 2001 was released in
The JVT started its work of interviewing and verifying
Bhutanese refugees from Khudunabari refugee camp in Jhapa
on March 26 2001. The JVT selected Khudunabari camp to
start with as it has the lowest number of refugee population.
This camp had 12,447 refugees.
The refugee repatriation process
is still expected to undergo the following eight stages/process
(based on the analysis of current initiatives on the
resolution of Bhutanese refugee issues) if Bhutan had its way
of delaying tactics. In order to delay the actual
repatriation of Bhutanese refugees, the Royal Government of
Bhutan will insist on more delaying tactics. Verification of refugees in just one
camp was completed on December 14, 2001. As of January 2003,
even the first of the following stages/process has not been
The verification and documentation of entire refugees of all
camps by the JVT
which is a technical team. It took nearly nine months to
verify the refugees in just one and smallest camp. The
verification was completed on December 14, 2001. The JVT will
take at least six more years to complete the interview of
refugees and verification of their documents in the rest of
six refugee camps at the current pace.
2. Harmonization of two governments' position on Categorization
of refugees into four categories after verification and documentation
at the JVT level. So far, harmonization of two countries' position
has remained the most difficult task. As the two have conflicting
views on categorization. the JVT should only categorize two
categories - Bhutanese and non-Bhutanese. The categorization
has lost its relevance since more that 98 percent of verified
refugees possessed documents to prove their origin and
habitual residence in Bhutan
3. Submission of verification report to the Joint Foreign
Secretary Level Committee (JFSLC) - sorting of differences
at this level.
4. Submission of complete verification report to the Joint
Foreign Ministry Level Committee (JMLC) for approval.
5. Seeking approval or ratification of the final list by the
government and parliament of Bhutan
6. Final agreement on repatriation.
7. Preparation of modalities, logistics, transport on movement
of refugee to Bhutan and rehabilitation measures for refugees
8. Final movement of refugees to Bhutan
The above process will take more
than six years, if done within a time-frame.
Verification of Refugees completed in Khudunabari
verification of refugees living in Khudunabari undertaken
by the Nepal-Bhutan Joint Verification Team was completed
on December 14, 2001 according to the office of the Joint
Verification Team (JVT). Khudunabari
was the smallest of seven
refugee camps. It had
12,447 refugees with 1,963 families. The verification of refugees
was started on march 26, 2001. The JVT has completed verification
of 12,090 refugees from 1,935 families. The JVT took
264 days (153 working days)
to complete Khudunabari camp.
569 unregistered refugees living in Khudunabari camp.
589 refugees were absent during the verification process.
The status of 67 persons married from outside the camps,
41 persons married from
other camps and 4 persons of Khudunabari camp married
outside were not verified. 173 children were born from the
date of the start of verification till its completion.
JVT checked and verified
all documents available with refugees including
land tax paid receipts, house number, driving licence
and gun licence etc.. The JVT disclosed that almost all interviewed
refugees possessed some kind of documents issued to them by
the Royal Government of Bhutan as proof of their last legal
residence or their origin in Bhutan.
Ironically, Dr Sonam Tenzin, the Director of the Special
Task Force of Bhutanese Home Ministry, who is one of the perpetrators of the
forced eviction of refugees, was the chief interviewer.
As the Dzongda (Chief District Officer) of Sarbhang district,
he evicted a large number of refugees. During the interviews,
some refugees bluntly said that it was he who evicted them.
The JVT has done nothing to wipe out the psychological stress
of the refugees.
The forms the refugees required to fill up were complicated, unscientific,
lengthy and time consuming. The questionnaire asking 'who
evicted you' and 'why an appeal was not made to higher authority
against your forced eviction', is improper, unsuitable and
ridiculous. The eviction order came directly from the Bhutanese
king and his ministers and hence there was no room for appeal.
The JVT had been acting more like a Commission of Inquiry on forced
eviction than a verification committee. It seemed that the
Bhutanese head of JVT, Sonam
Tenzing was trying to fix responsibility for the forced evictions.
By making the refugees recall the nightmare of the torturous
eviction days and excesses committed against them, the JVT
was responsible for arousing the bitter feelings and animosity (dormant
since long) among the refugees against the Royal Government
of Bhutan (RGOB).
Slow Pace: The slow pace
of the verification process has raised more questions than it
could answer. The JVT checked the citizenship ID cards,
house, land, marriage, tax paid certificates and other
documents of the refugees. The average rate of interview
was 50 refugees per day. At this pace, it will take six years
of 260 working days per year to complete just the interviews
of all the refugee families. The JVT should have distributed proforma
forms to the refugees at least one week in advance to reduce
the interview time. There was hardly any secrecy in the forms
that needs to be guarded. The JVT should target at least 400
refugees per day and eliminate the lengthy process. It should
minimize the interview time for refugees possessing citizenship
IDs and stop wasting time finding out the reasons of eviction
and the perpetrators. The JVT is there to identify Bhutanese
citizens from non-Bhutanese and not to determine the reasons
of their eviction or the names of perpetrators. These, if
needed, can be done inside Bhutan. This will halve the interview
time. Bhutan must agree to complete the interview of
refugees and verification of their documents with in a
The bilateral negotiations (JVT) cannot go on perennial basis.
The process cannot be dragged on for ever. There must be a
time-bound completion of verification process and the repatriation
of refugees. Bhutan must agree to a time-bound completion
of the current verification process and repatriation. Bhutan
must agree to make the result of interview/verification of
refugees public and speed up the immediate repatriation of
those refugee who have been verified as genuine Bhutanese
citizens. The process of verification must be made transparent.
patience of refugee is wearing out due to the slow pace of
verification/interview process and lost no faith in the JVT.
Not only refugees, even the UNHCR and other international
communities, including the European Union, have expressed
their dissatisfaction over the slow progress in the refugee
verification. Danish envoy to Nepal and representative of
the European Union, Lars Hormann, on behalf of all the 15-member
European Union countries, visited the camp and the JVT Office
on 30th April said, "Although we are satisfied with the
procedures applied, we are concerned with the speed of the
process." The European Union (EU) is one of the major
sponsors of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees'
programme in the camps.
There was only one
group of JVT. The refugees started to demand for the
increase in the number of the JVT groups. They wanted the
number of JVT increased to at least 3 to 5 groups to speed up
the process. Due
to the pressure from refugees and international community,
Nepal and Bhutan agreed to hold the 11th round of JMLCT in
Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan from 20-23 August 2001. Nepal proposed for the increase of the JVT into
3 groups and simplification of verification procedures -the
simplification of proforma forms which refugees are required
to fill up at the JVT office. Bhutan did not agree to the
proposal of increasing the number of JVT group. It rather
agreed to simplify the procedure of verification process.
This could only add not more than 5-10 persons to current verification
of 50 persons per day.
If the JVT is split into 5 groups
of 7 members. They could interview 50 families per day. The
entire process of verification will be completed within one
and half years. Just simplification of procedures will not speed up the process. Bhutan government is not interested
in speeding up the verification process. It still wants to
delay the process.
No agreed time-frame on when the entire process of verification
and repatriation can take place, have been fixed. The two
nations cannot go on negotiations on perennial basis. The
international community must demand a time frame and concrete
road map on the completion of the verification, documentation
and actual repatriation of Bhutanese refugees from Bhutan. The verification
alone is expected to take six years. The total time on verification,
categorization, other official procedures and final agreement
on repatriation ( if it proceeds at all at the current pace)
is bound to take over ten years. The international community
must be prepared to provide funding to the refugee camps for
another 10 years.
Transparency: There was no transparency in the whole exercise
and the JVT was keeping the entire process in secrecy under
Bhutan's demand, thereby
creating grounds for suspicion. This suspicion and fear was
compounded by the non-inclusion of a third party, refugee
representation or a point of appeal. The JVT was also found
non-cooperative to the media. Refugees and people around the
world have the right to information. Bhutanese officials have
no culture of freedom. The JVT said that it will not disclose
the result of the interviews on a daily basis.
The Rpyal Government of Bhutan
demanded that the result of verification will not be announced
completion of the entire verification process. Thus, the refugees
who had completed their interviews with the JVT do not know
their status until the end of the entire verification process.
This is a matter of grave concern for Bhutanese refugees as
it directly concerns their well-being and security. There
is no guarantee of the JVT providing justice to the Bhutanese
refugees, the victims of persecution by a government, which
is a party to the JVT. In the best interest, security and
mental health of the refugees, the result of the interviews
must be made public the same day. What would be the future
of the refugees and their children if they are declared non-Bhutanese
ten years after the verification process?
not clear whether the JVT will undertake
the verification of refugees in other camps immediately.
It is also not clear whether the JVT will start the categorization
of refugees in
Khudunabari, whose verification was completed on 14 December
or they will do the categorization after completion of verification
refugees in all seven camps.
forced Nepal to accept the categorization of refugees into four categories: a) Bonafide
Bhutanese, if they have been evicted forcefully; b) Bhutanese
who emigrated; c) Non- Bhutanese people; and d) Bhutanese
who have committed criminal acts.
The Ministerial talks deadlocked
on 'harmonising the two sides' positions on each categories.
Bhutan deliberately proposed the categorization of refugees
into four category, aimed at prolonging the resolution of
problem and by doing so, Bhutan expected refugees' automatic
assimilation in Nepal.
So far, harmonization of two
countries' position has remained the most difficult task. They
have not been able to harmonize their common position on
There are differences regarding the categorization of the
refugees between Nepal and Bhutan. Nepal wants Bhutan to
accept refugees in two categories - Bhutanese and
non-Bhutanese. However, Bhutan insists on four categories. The
categorization will be a messy affairs and it would be more
complicated than the verification process. Discords,
complications and confrontation are bound to occur between
Nepal and Bhutan at every stage of categorization process
The categorization must be done
simultaneously with verification. The refugees should be
categorized into two categories - Bhutanese and
non-Bhutanese. In any case, the categorization has
lost its relevance since more that 98 percent of verified
refugees possessed documents to prove their origin and
habitual residence in Bhutan. It is just a prolonging tactics
employed by Bhutan.
Forced Eviction: The mass eviction order came from non other
than the then all-powerful deputy home minister Dago Tshering.
In his circular of 17 August, 1990 he ordered the Dzongdas
of southern Bhutan to 'forfeit the citizenship of all the
relatives' of those who participated in the first ever pro-human
rights rallies in southern Bhutan. The JVT should refer to
the circular rather than ask the refugees.
The RGOB made the lives of southern Bhutanese miserable by
stopping the supply of food stuffs including salt and oil
to the interior districts in the south following peaceful
rallies. RGOB ordered the burning down of the houses of the
southern Bhutanese. It closed all schools, basic health units
and other facilities in southern Bhutan. It introduced the
mandatory No Objection Certificate (NOC), which blocked all
opportunities for the southern Bhutanese. RGOB unleashed a
reign of state terror on the Lhotshampas, including indiscriminate
mass arrest, mass eviction, rape, looting, plunder and custodial
death, which led to their forcible exile to Nepal.It is clear
that the forced eviction was intentional and done on such
a mass scale at RGOB's behest that an appeal would have never
been accepted. In any case, an appeal by 100,000 refugees,
20 percent of the total population of Bhutan, makes no sense.
There is no process of appeal or judicial review/redress available
to citizens in Bhutan. Despite this a few southern Bhutanese
dared to appeal, but their appeal was rejected. The classic
case of Tek Nath Rizal who was imprisoned for ten years for
daring to submit an appeal to the king for review of the draconian
Citizenship Act 1985 is an example.
the JMLC comprises ministers, it will delay matters further.
Bhutan's intransigence is going to create more problems, it
will create complications for as many refugees (
could be fifty percent) by rejecting the documents or by other means. If the JVT is
to place the problems of even 50 percent of the refugees before
the JMLC, one can imagine the volume of work and amount of
delay that will be involved. Will it be possible for the ministers
on the JMLC to sit for a marathon meeting for three or four
moths at a time to sort out the problems of over 50 percent
of the refugees?. The whole JVT exercise is just an excuse
for Bhutan to counter international pressure on it and mislead
the international community that it is engaged in negotiation
for repatriation of refugees.
the JMLC nor the JVT is going to deal with the resettlement
of other communities from the north and east in the land of
the refugees in southern Bhutan. On the one hand, Bhutan is
interviewing refugees for their eventual repatriation. On
the other hand, it is continuing its resettlement programme
in southern Bhutan. If the resettlement is not stopped, where
will the refugees go? The whole basis and process of verification
is defeated by the on-going resettlement programme in southern
Bhutan. The verification process thus, seems to be unrealistic
and fake. The process amply demonstrates that Bhutan is neither
serious nor sincere in taking back its refugee citizens. Had
it been sincere, it would not have made a simple process so
the refugee issue today is where it began in 1993, the first
JMLC Talk. Without the involvement of a third party or international
community, the Bhutanese refugee issue is not going to be
resolved at all. We urge the international community to pressurize
Bhutan to agree on speeding up the process of verification,
categorization and final repatriation of Bhutanese refugees
challenge for the international community now is to monitor
that the verification process is fair, equitable and time-bound
and to keep continuous pressure on Bhutan until all refugees
can go back home.
Performa for Verification of Bhutanese Refugees
Full name of the person..
Age, date and place of birth
Camp and no
[b] ID Card/Registration no./Ration card number of the camp
[c] Date of admission to the camp
List of Family Members [Details of each member attached]
Signature/Thumb impression of the head of Family/Individual
Name of the Person
3. Age, date and place of birth
4. Camp Identity Document
5. Marital Status
7. Relation to Head of family
8. Proof of relation to head of family
[relevant documents if any]
9. Name of Camp
10. Date of admission to camp
Signature/Thumb impression Signature/Thumb impression of head
Details of last address before coming to camp
Documents at hand
[a] Thram number
[b] House number
[c] Tax Receipts
[d] Citizenship/ID Card number
[e] Marriage Certificate
[f] Other documents
3. Furnish the following details
[a] Date of departure, from where
[b] Reason for departure
If forcefully evicted, specify the following
[a] Date of eviction
[b] Authority by whom eviction was done
i. Civil official
ii. Military official/Police
iii. Any other
[c] Any proof of eviction
[d] If appeal was made to higher authority and if so whom?
If not, why?
[e] Please furnish any other details
Neighbours in Bhutan
The undersigned states that this Performa has been completed
having fully understood the question listed on the form and
that all the information given above have been filled in correctly.
impression of head of family/Individual unit