About the need for free journalism for the Bhutanese in exile.

A couple of days ago a fire ravished a part of the Beldangi 2 Bhutanese refugee camp in the southeast of Nepal near the little town of Damak. I know that camp well as I have spend there a lot of time filming my upcoming documentary ‘Headwind’. There were no fatalities or severe injuries and that of course is both a good thing and a miracle. Knowing the situation in the camp and knowing where in the camp that fire was I can safely state that swift action of the inhabitants of Beldangi 2 who demolished some 35 huts to prevent the fire spreading has saved them from a disaster like the one that took place on March 22 2011 in the Goldhap camp which was almost completely incinerated. This time ‘only’ some 250 people have lost their huts, their homes.

During the hours of the fire incident and in the wee hours of yesterdays morning I reported on the incident on my website mirroring and analyzing the information given to me through different channels I have with people in Nepal and outside of Nepal and who had direct access to witnesses at the scene. That has made it possible to be clear on the status of the incident and be clear on the fact that no casualties were to be counted, a thing that is of great importance to all Bhutanese who have family and friends living in that camp. I tried to be as objective as possible and continued checking facts and figures by referencing the information coming at me. Hopefully I did that well enough to serve the community. Looking at the statistics of my website it is obvious that the news regarding the fire was well read by many people in a very short span of time. I am pretty sure that a lot of Bhutanese have read the information I gave.

One thing that has become very clear is the fact that it is totally impossible to have any news concerning incidents like this spread to the global community (and international media if needed) without the presence of journalists in the area. Most of the people I connect with are young journalists who are taking their voluntary task as a non profit journalist very serious and they have once again proven to be the backbone of news and information gathering and publishing for the Bhutanese community.

But their work is under grave threats. Let me explain.

First of all none of them are regarded as professional journalists because they are refugees themselves and therefore not allowed to work as a journalist. This means they have no press cards and no legal protection like other journalists do have.

Secondly, a lot of them are themselves being resettled and the more experienced in that group of very motivated young people are quite indispensable for free journalism in and around the refugee camps.

Thirdly, they are lacking professional equipment and good connections for swift response even though some equipment was brought to them recently.

And besides all that they have only limited support for their work.

Still, there are some media initiatives that have proven to be of great value and some of them have been working in this area for years. Websites like Bhutan News Service , Media Network Bhutan and the newly instated e-paper The Refugee Herald are well managed regarding the circumstances they have to work under. These guys need support, continuously. Support from international media and support from the global Bhutanese community. Their work is of increasing importance now that the resettlement of the refugees is going fast. Within a couple of years most of the refugees will have been resettled, but not all of them will leave. Many (some think maybe up to 15,000) will stay in the camps after resettlement closes in 2015 as the UNHCR has hinted. Who will tell their stories if local journalism has gone? Who will keep relatives and friends informed of their situation from a journalistic angle.

This observation should lead to a call for action. A call fo action to the international journalistic community for support and a call for action to the global Bhutanese community to not let these guys down and support them in supporting the Bhutanese living in the camps and living in diaspora.
For me this means that I will continue reporting and traveling to the region in the coming years and do whatever is in my ability to help out.

Alice © 2012

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