RESETTLEMENT IN THE LANDS OF REFUGEES
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RESETTLEMENT IN THE LANDS OF REFUGEES

As a  strategy for stalling the repatriation of refugees, King Jigme obtained legislative mandate from the Drukpa dominated and his rubber stamp National Assembly in its 75th Session held  from June 20, 1997 for resettlement of northerners and easterners in the land formerly owned by the Nepali-speaking Bhutanese refugees in Nepal. Accordingly, a  high level National Resettlement Committee comprising the Home Minster, Chief of Royal Bhutan Army, Secretary of Agriculture and Secretary of Survey department was constituted to implement the resettlement programmes. The idea was that if there are no lands the  refugees would not return a clear signal that the government is not interested in solving the southern problems. Since then the Royal  Government of Bhutan has been transferring population from other parts in the lands of refugees in Southern Bhutan, thus, blocking the chances for the refugees’ going home.

 

The government  tried to implement its newly acquired legislative mandate  by trying to invite 60,000 Bangladeshi Buddhist  Chakma refugees in India to permanently settle down in the lands left behind by the Lhotshampa refugees. However, the Chakmas were reportedly turned down the offer. They were later repatriated to Bangladesh.  This is also a clear indication that the government is trying to find the solution for southern Bhutanese problems from not within the country but outside.

 

The refusal by the Chakmas made the government turn to the Sharchops. The government wants to kill two birds with one stone. It wants to create a rift between the Lhotshampas and the Sharchops.  The government as a pilot project,   initially announced settled  370 landless Sharchhop families from Tashigang in the south in the first phase.  The government already distributed  land left behind by the Lhotshampas in Chirangdara, Changkha, Khibisha, and Surey  blocks of Chirang, Dagana and Sarbhang  districts in the southern Bhutan in the last week of December, 1997.

 

The government started allotting 10 acres of land of refugees to each house hold. Since  the highlander Sharchops were reluctant  to settle in the tropical  south, the  government paid Nu/Rs. 10,000 to each selected house hold  as incentive for resettlement.  The second instalment of Nu/Rs. 100,000 is payable when the government is fully convinced of full establishment of the household. The  Government  started intimidating the Sharchops in hushed tone  that if they do not support the government’s resettlement programme,  they will be shown the exit door too.

 

The government is making  the resettlement programme look like as if it was undertaken  at the request of Nepali-speaking villagers. The real objective is not of resettling the landless, but of preventing  the repatriation of refugees permanently and to force  them to   get assimilated in Nepal,  at all cost. 

 

On the one hand, Bhutan is interviewing refugees for their eventual repatriation through the creation of Joint Verification Team. 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 King of Bhutan in his national day address on December 17, 2002 indicated the continuation of resettlement programme and allotment of  land to 600 families in southern Bhutan. This clearly demonstrates Bhutan government's  desire to sabotage any attempt of refugee repatriation to their original homesteads. The resettlement must be stopped.

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