In 2006, then Bush Assistant Secretary of State for Population Refugees and Migration, Ellen Sauerbrey, announced that the United States would begin to “clean out the [refugee] camps” in Nepal where people of Napali origin had been living since being expelled from Bhutan. She said we would take 60,000 of the 100,000 refugees.
We have resettled over 66,000 and there is no end in sight. In fact, one has to laugh because the camp population appears to be growing.
Some of the Bhutanese are doing well in America, others are not. Type ‘Bhutanese’ into our search function for many reports on how they are faring around the country. One problem that has become apparent is that the Bhutanese have a very high suicide rate.
KATHMANDU, Nepal, April 26 (UNHCR) – The resettlement of refugees from Bhutan reached a major milestone this week, with 100,000 people having been referred for resettlement from Nepal to third countries since the programme began in 2007. Nearly 80,000 of them have started their new lives in eight different countries – an important step towards resolving one of the most protracted refugee situations in Asia.
The acceptance rate of UNHCR’s referrals in Nepal by resettlement countries is the highest in the world – at 99.4 per cent of total submissions. The United States has accepted the largest number of refugees (66,134), followed by Canada (5,376), Australia (4,190), New Zealand (747), Denmark (746), Norway (546), the Netherlands (326) and the United Kingdom (317).
The math is a little fuzzy here, or is it me? There were 108,000 in the camps originally, 100,000 have been dispersed to the “four winds,” yet 38,100 remain to be resettled?
Of the original population of 108,000 refugees originating from Bhutan and living in Nepal, some 38,100 remain in the Sanischare and Beldangi camps in eastern Nepal. Most of them have expressed an interest in the resettlement programme.
Sauerbrey’s original decision in 2006 was highly controversial, not so much controversial to Americans (most had no clue this was happening) who might question the wisdom of cleaning out refugee camps in the third world (especially where the refugees were in no danger) and adding to our unemployment and welfare rolls, but from a segment of the Bhutanese camp dwellers themselves.
We wrote about the camp conflicts in many posts in the first years of RRW’s existence, but here is a story from 2010 I hadn’t seen in which former GOP candidate for Governor of Maryland explains what happened.
From Inside the Bay Area:
“We all expected repatriation but it did not happen,” said Amalraj, a Jesuit priest from India. “Fifteen rounds of talks. Nothing happened. All the countries pressurized. Nothing happened.”
Then came Ellen Sauerbrey. With a few choice words delivered at a United Nations meeting four years ago, the Bush administration official triggered an end to repatriation talks and put the American dream on the minds of thousands of refugee children and their parents.
The United States would take them — up to 60,000 of the more than 100,000 Bhutanese refugees stranded in Nepal — and find homes for them in American cities and suburbs. That was the surprise message Sauerbrey brought to a meeting of diplomats in Geneva in fall 2006.
Some in the audience were stunned. Sauerbrey knew her words would put immediate pressure on other wealthy countries to act, but she did not tell many of them in advance.
Like most Americans, the former Republican state legislator from Maryland spent most of her life knowing little about the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, home to fewer than 700,000 people. That changed when President George W. Bush nominated her director of the State Department’s refugee division in 2005, brushing aside Democrats — including then-Sen. Barack Obama — who argued at hearings that Sauerbrey lacked experience for the job. She was appointed in early 2006. Bhutan quickly became a priority.
“I remember saying to some of my heads, some of my offices, we’re going to settle this,” Sauerbrey said in an interview this year. “Next year is going to be the year of Bhutan. We’re going to settle this problem.”
Sauerbrey said getting the refugees to “third countries” — someplace other than Bhutan and Nepal — was the best and only remaining solution to an intractable humanitarian crisis in the Himalayas. Bhutan refused to recognize as citizens those who fled in the early 1990s, arguing their departure was voluntary and permanent. Nepal, one of the world’s poorest countries, did not have the economic capacity to integrate them. The United Nations could not run the camps forever.
Really! The UN could not run camps forever? Isn’t that exactly what the UN is doing with the Palestinians. Why isn’t the UN, after 50-60 years! not dispersing the Palestinians to the four winds? We know why—they must remain right there as a constant thorn in the side of Israel!
Sauerbrey said in 2007, apparently about Muslim refugees, that we had to take them so they wouldn’t become terrorists, here. Below she suggests the largely Hindu and Buddhist Bhutanese/Nepalese might turn to radicalism if we didn’t take them to your cities.
Why are these UN camps our problem? And, with the US’s mighty economic influence, couldn’t we put some pressure on these tiny poor nations to repatriate their people? By the way, Bhutan considered the Nepali people as illegal aliens who were diluting their ethnic population.
Observers also worried the situation in the region might grow dangerous as refugees, frustrated by years living in limbo, looked to radicalism or political violence, Sauerbrey said.
“My perspective became, we could be arguing about who’s to blame for 100 years,” Sauerbrey said. “The U.S., we’re not here trying to make political statements about who’s right or wrong. There’s a big problem, a humanitarian problem, when children are born and raised and have never seen anything but a refugee camp.”
State Department officials predict the U.S., by 2014, will be home to at least 60,000 Bhutanese refugees, more than half the total. Seven other countries, led by Canada and Australia, have accepted the rest. [The US surpassed 60,000 by late 2012.—ed]
“When I made the statement that the U.S. was willing to take 60,000,” Sauerbrey said, “it was with the knowledge that between Canada and Australia and to a small degree, European countries, we could almost clean out the camps.”
“There were a lot of refugees who say for the first time there was a solution,” said Sauerbrey, who resigned at the end of 2007, just as the resettlement began. “There were other refugees who wanted only one solution, which was to return to Bhutan. It started a real debate.”
Violence erupted in camps largely instigated by those who objected to their people being dispersed to the four winds to live “like beggars.”
A contracting agency, the International Organization for Migration, or IOM, was met with resistance when it arrived to the town of Damak to organize the resettlement in 2007. Some refugees enthusiastically took buses into Damak to sign up for resettlement and be interviewed. Other refugees pelted those buses with stones. Families known to harbor thoughts of leaving the camps faced death threats. In one nighttime attack, assailants lobbed small explosives over the gates of the IOM office, injuring no one.
The most influential protests came from refugee political leaders and their allies in Nepal who wanted to keep the pressure on Bhutan to take the refugees back.
“Instead of pressurizing Bhutan, which violated our human rights, America initiated the resettlement process,” said Tek Nath Rizal, an exiled Bhutanese politician who now lives in Katmandu and opposes the mass resettlement to the West. “We have to go there like beggars. We cannot live in dignity.”
So when do we start cleaning out the Palestinian camps so as to stop the radicalization?