Nepal-Bhutan Joint Verification of Refugees

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Nepal-Bhutan Joint Verification of Refugees

Updated on January 31, 2003

 

So 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 (15,032 refugee families) Bhutanese refugees  in the seven refugee camps as on October 2002 as per UNHCR STATISTICAL YEAR BOOK 2001  Page  89 ANNEX A.6. The UNHCR Statistical Year Book 2001 was released in October 2002.

 

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 completed.  

 

STAGES/PROCESS

 

1. 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 in Bhutan.


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  December 15, 2001

 

The 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.

 

There were 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. The 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 year.

 

Speed up: 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.

 

The 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.

 

Time-frame: 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.

 

No 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 before  the 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?

 

It is still 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 of  entire refugees in all seven camps.

 

Categorization: Bhutan 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 categorization 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 after verification

 

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.

 

Since 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.

 

Neither 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 complicated.

 

Practically, 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

 

The 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.


DRAFT PERFORMA


Performa for Verification of Bhutanese Refugees

PART A

1. Full name of the person..……………………………………………….

2. Father's Name………………………………………………………….

3. Mother's Name…………………………………………………………

4. Age, date and place of birth…………………………………………….

5. Profession/Employment…………………………………………………

6. Present Address

[a] Camp and no…………………………………………………
[b] ID Card/Registration no./Ration card number of the camp
………………………………………………………………...
[c] Date of admission to the camp……………………………….

7. List of Family Members [Details of each member attached]

1………………………………………………………………….
2………………………………………………………………….
3…………………………………………………………………..
4………………………………………………………………….
5………………………………………………………………….

Signature/Thumb impression of the head of Family/Individual

Attachment

 

1. Name of the Person………………………………………………………..
2. Sex………………………………………………………………………….
3. Age, date and place of birth…………………………………………………
4. Camp Identity Document……………………………………………………
5. Marital Status………………………………………………………………..
6. Occupation…………………………………………………………………..
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 of family


DRAFT PERFORMA

PART B

1. Details of last address before coming to camp
Village……………………………………
Block……………………………………..
District……………………………………
Mandal……………………………………
Karbari……………………………………

2. 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…………………………………………………

4. 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……………………………………………

5. Neighbours in Bhutan……………………………………………………………

6. The undersigned states that this Performa has been completed voluntarily after
having fully understood the question listed on the form and that all the information given above have been filled in correctly.

Signature/Thumb impression of head of family/Individual unit

Please Click on Resettlement 

 

 

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