UPDATE: According to my friend and colleague of Bhutan News Service Vidhyapati Mishra who is monitoring the situation in the Beldangi II camp 10 out of 15 hunger strikers have fallen ill. AMDA doctors were present to examine them and a government official (assistant Chief District Officer of the Jhapa District) visited the hunger strikers yesterday urging them to end the strike and stating the government was not given an ultimatum to correct the registration problem. As this is the second time a hunger strike is happening after a full year without progress this last statement is doubtful to say the least. As the living conditions in the refugee camps are not good and the general health situation is problematic it is obvious that this hunger strike has a high risk and urgent action is needed. Further decline of the medical situation of the hunger strikers is imminent.
Today I spoke to one of my Bhutanese friends who I met while filming. Het told me the latest news from the Beldangi II refugee camp in Nepal which is so familiar to me. And I was shocked.
Today there was a demonstration with a hungerstrike in my hometown The Hague. By Tibetan refugees protesting against the atrocities of the Chinese occupying power in their homeland Tibet. And out of solidarity with the suicides attempts by self-burning that a long list of Tibetan monks and nuns do. A tragedy that gains international media attention easily.
So today this Bhutanese friend told me about fifteen Bhutanese women in the Beldangi II camp who started a hungerstrike till death the yesterday because they are not registered by the Nepalese government as refugees. Not having such a status means no support like the other Bhutanese refugees get, no health care, no education for their children, no food, no opportunity to resettle to another country, no life…
This group of fifteen brave women in the Beldangi camp do not get international attention. They have no cameras registering teir ordeal and no means of spreading their story globally. They are not seen and not heard. As if they don’t exist from an international perspective. They are stateless, powerless and without rights. Their situation offends me as a human being, as a sister. It’s important that the world gets to know the downside of the resettlement program that the international community is executing through the UNHCR and a number of countries who, like my own, invite Bhutanese refugees to come over and build a new life, a new future. For humanitarian reasons. The fifteen women from Beldangi do not have a refugee status and there are a number of reasons possible why that is so. One of them is that they might very well have arrived as a refugee in the refugee-camp they live in too late. Because once the resettlement program from the UNHCR started in 2007 they blocked the entry of newly arrived refugees in the camps. Resettling exiles is done with the condition that there will be no more influx of refugees in the camps.
The registration of refugees in the camps is a debatable issue. Because of identity and resettlement fraud the criteria for receiving a refugeestatus in the camps has become more complicated and strict. Unclarity of ones past situation and family relations now means that one might not get such status, with the above consequences. The worst one being the fact that one in essence is told not to exist. To be stateless while not being a refugee and because of that having even less rights than a refugee.
From a more fundamental perspective it is this policy that degrades people to a less than human level. With no rights to housing, education, health care, food, work and basically without a right to exist. This in essence is a gross human rights tragedy and a gross violation of the most basic human rights. Currently UNHCR holds a large number of files of refugees whose identity is either not completely clear or for a number of other reasons. As long as these files are held by the UNHCR and not transferred to the IOM (International Organization for Migration) these files will not be processed further and thereby the resettling of these people is halted. And as stated people without refugee status are denied the rights other refugees have making life almost unbearable. For sometimes very unclear reasons the verification of ones refugee status sometimes takes an extremely long time at the UNHCR resulting in major problems for the ones it concerns. This includes effectively halting the resettlement of some who have opted for resettlement for unclear reasons and preventing others to opt for resettlement because they’ve not been granted refugee status rendering resettlement impossible.
I can and will not except that reality for a fact. I challenge the policymakers, the politicians, the international community to end this inhumane policy. As a citizen of this earth I urge the world to open the eyes and set itself behind those women, to tell their stories, to support them and to save them. Because they have every right for an acceptable quality of life, just like anyone else, just like you and me. Because they are just like you and me human beings.
If you feel that this situation should end, please write a letter or an email in support of these women to your member of parliament, government or Nepal ambassador or consul. To seek justice for these women.
Alice © 2011