‘Headwind, Laxmi’s Story’ is still available.

Headwind, Laxmi’s Story is still available through mailorder directly from the author’s online bookshop. Here you’ll find the first chapter of the novel to get a grip with the story of Laxmi. Click here for Headwind, Laxmi’s Story Sample. You can buy the book here. If any questions arise on orders or shipping, please drop me a line at alice@woordenstorm.nl.


In 2011 and early 2012 I wrote the English language novel ‘Headwind, Laxmi’s Story’ about a young Bhutanese woman who was born in a refugee camp in Nepal after her parents were exiled from the supposed to be Shangri-La country Bhutan. Laxmi was resettled by the UNHCR (United Nations refugee agency) to the Netherlands. In her story she looks back at het past life in the camp and tells about her struggle to create a new life in a society that is alien to her. And all the time she longs for her true love, the boy she grew up with in the camp and who now lives in the United States as a resettler.

Headwind, Laxmi’s Story is about coming of age in between cultures, about the life as a refugee and a migrant. About having to struggle for a decent life and about a love that seems impossible. It’s about the caste system that is a fundament underneath the Hindu society and the changes that come when people are taken from their home, their country, culture an religion and implanted in a modern society. But above all it’s a story about a young woman with a difficult past who fights her way through life, like most refugees do.

headwind front coverHeadwind, Laxmi’s Story Sample

 

 

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Is UNHCR creating malnutrition in the Bhutanese refugee camps in Nepal?

A few days ago a letter was written by important members of the Bhutanese refugee community in Nepal to the UNHCR in that country. The letter is a request to discuss maltreatment by the UNHCR regarding the refugees they are supposed to take care of.

What is happening?

Since the early 1990’s the UNHCR has managed and maintained a number of refugee camps in the southeast of Nepal (more exact, in the Jhapa and Morang districts). At its height there were over 107.000 refugees listed in those camps. Since 2008 the UNHCR has started the by far largest third country resettlement program ever aiming at completely solving the decades long refugee crisis of the Bhutanese who exiled from their Shangri-La like country in the Himalayas.

unhcr

The UNHCR has done a tremendous job in guarding peace in those camps while at the same time bringing essential humanitarian aid the the inhabitants. Nepal (just like India and Bhutan) never signed the UN refugee treaty so the UNHCR has been working there on a UN mandate. They have been partnering with AMDA (Asian Medical Doctors Association) for health care, Caritas for education, Lutheran World Federation for camp management and monitoring and the WFP World Food Program for food distribution to the camp communities that have no other means of existence.

But things have changed. The aim of the UNHCR in Nepal seems to have shifted in the past few years from caring for the refugees who livin in limbo in the camps to bringing a durable solution to their situation by third country resettlement. According to the international morale of refugees the people should repatriate but that has obviously proven to be an impossible dream as Bhutan, the country of Gross National Happiness, has been frustrating talks and efforts for that ever since the crisis started in 1991. Assimilation in the Nepalese and Indian society is also a no go as Nepal and India do not accept that (the lack the resources to do that on a humanitarian responsible manner), hence the durable solution of the UNHCR: resettling to the west.

This resettlement project is well underway with almost two thirds of the refugees already resettled to mainly the US and countries like Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Norway Denmark, Netherlands and the UK. But there are fears that not all refugees will resettle. After all it is an opt-in project and not all refugees desire a life in a completely alien western society ultimately losing their history, religion and way of life in due time. Some 10,000 refugees have not opterd for resettlement. Let alone the other more than 4,000* refugees that have not been registered as refugees for a variety of reasons. They do however live in those camps without food, healthcare and proper housing. (* The number is based on a headcount by camp management in 2011 and has decreased to a yet unknown figure.)

So something needs to happen. Recently the UNHCR has announced that they can no longer provide vegetables to the refugees, taking out an important element in their diet which is by no means extensive. The effects of not supplying vegetables as of January 2013 will no doubt be deteriorating health of the camps population in the coming years. The reason the UNHCR has given is that they lack a proper budget for this essential food. Which is very strange as the European Union has provided for a over 3 Million Euro budget for the UNHCR for the years 2012, 2013 and 2014, continuing the financing of the UNHCR’s operation in regard to those camps. So what is happening?

According to the Beldangi camp secretary, Dhan Bir Subba, (Beldangi is the largest of the two remaining camps) the UN has informed them that the budget is redistributed by the UNHCR to other refugee crisis areas in the world. Basically stating that they simply do no longer see a priority in maintaining proper support to the Bhutanese refugees still living in the camps in Nepal. Which of course is an extra push to get the refugees to the point that they will opt for resettlement. So is this argument used by the UNHCR just a trick to reach a ‘durable solution’ by increasing pressure on the refugee community to resettle completely? And if so, is that ethical?

According to Subba the UNHCR has declared that they have no other option than to decrease the available budget for the Bhutanese exiles in the camps, a ‘Hopson’s choice’ so to speak. The UNHCR has also declared that they will distribute vegetable seeds as an alternative, but as the remaining camps are heavily populated, the availability of enough land to grow crops is a question that remains. The UNHCR seems to have suggested to use the empty huts of resettlers for that purpose.

The chairman of the Bhutanese Refugee Representative Repatriation Committee, Dr Bhampa Rai, who I have het the privilige to interview a number of times concerning the situation of the refugees, has condemned the UNHCR decision. And by all means, the timeline between announcing and stopping vegetable distribution is just over a month, making it impossible for the refugees to grow enough crops for a healthy nutrition, seems irresponsible.

“The decision has created doubts on UNHCR’s intention towards refugees. How can those who themselves survive on delicious vegetables on daily basis decide to stop the supply of the same items for us,” Dr Rai said according to the Bhutan News Service.

The question that this raises is wether the UNHCR is now going to a stage in promoting resettlement to the refugees by disregarding basic human rights like proper nutrition. And that is not all. The Bhutanese refugees feel that they are pressurized by the UNHCR to resettle, which means that they doubt wether they really have a free choince NOT to resettle but continue hoping for repatriation to their motherland.

Apart from the other issues mentioned in the request written by major community leaders to the UNHCR (see the attached letter), the nutrition issue is a very serious decline in the basic care for the refugees and frustrates the mandate of the UNHCR itself. The monthly supply of (only) 500 grams of season vegetables is ending this month. The diet of refugees in the camps will lack one of its important components and is for health reasons undesireable.

It is worrying that the UNHCR is also forbidding the refugee leaders to bring their complaints to the VIP’s who visit the camps. From personal experience working as a journalist in the camps I do know that some issues (like the large numner of unregistered refugees, the deteriorating education in the camps and the mounting crime like identity fraud and even institutionalized fraud) are being kept under the radar. Freedom of press and freedom of speech are just as much at stake as the basic human rights of the camp population. ‘Thou shalt not report negative’ is an adagium in this unmonitored situation.

LETTER-TO-UNHCR

It seems that the UNHCR is building pressure to end the Bhutanese refugee crisis and is not stepping away from methods that should be doubted and discussed on an international level and especially at the European Union, being the main financier of the UNHCR in Nepal.

In the meanwhile malnutrition is something that the Bhutanese refugees in Nepal should fear. The reality of life in the UNHCR managed refugee camps in Nepal is that things are not at all nice and dandy and in fact seem to become worse. But will the international community respond to that?

© 2012 Alice Anna Verheij

Is Nepal police killing a friend?

On April 27 a friend of mine who I value as a respectable journalist and community worker for the Bhutanese refugees in the camps in the Jhapa and Morang districts in Nepal was arrested in the IOM office in Kathmandu while waiting for his resettlement to the US to start a new life just like many other exiles through the UNHCR third country resettlement program. Jeet Bahadur Subba (who I know by a different name which is common practice for many Nepali youth) is a Bhutanese exile, writer, poet, community and youth worker who lived in a Bhutanese refugee camp for many, many years. But in stead of many other youth he worked hard for the benefit of the people, especially youth, in the camps. He did that by co-organizing social events, support actions for fire victims and trainings to empower youth and vulnerable groups in the camps.

We traveled together to the fire struck Goldhap an Sanischare camp and on invitation of Caritas gave journalism training to youth in the Beldangi camp last summer. The way he motivated the youth in that training and his passion in doing so was impressive.

Hanuman Dhoka Police Station, Kathmandu

Jeet Subba (I know him as Jeetan) is quite a character, not to be disregarded. We shared passionate conversations and joined effort for the benefit of his people in the camps. He is now detained at the the Hanuman Dhoka police station on charges of document falsification for Nepalis to be resettled to the US and Canada and having a false Nepali passport himself. An accusation of crimes that are threatening honest and justified third country resettlement. If that is true they are a serious accusation and he should be brought to trial.

However, after his arrest Jeet Subba has been severely tortured by Nepal police during the days before he was formally accused. During that time between April 27 and at least May 2 he was the victim of police brutality and threats. The torture methods included hooding, beatings with batons, falanga and the threats of pushing fabricated accusations of drugs smuggling onto him. Jit Subba admitted the accusations after being heavily tortured and will be brought to court as a result af that. During those first days in detention he was not given food or water while being in solitary confinement , not being read his legal rights, not being handed an arrest warrant or detention letter and not being allowed to talk with a lawyer without police presence. After those first days a visiting lawyer from a Nepal based human rights organization found Jit Subba with scars on his body, not being able to stand or walk and scared for his life. A second visit by a lawyer on May 8 after Jit Subba was transferred from the Central Investigation Bureau in Maharajganj, Kathmandu to Hanuman Dhoka police station was again not allowed without police presence. Current information is that Jeet Subba still needs urgent medical treatment as the result of severe torture.

Yesterday the Asian Human Rights Commission requested the prime minister of Nepal to intervene, just like other organizations had done in the past week.

Obviously Nepal police is, if the accusations of torture are true (and they are confirmed by multiple sources), way out of line on many grounds. From illegal arrest to illegal confinement, torture, threats of framing a citizen, not allowing legal support and not adhering to the Nepal interim constitution in regard to human rights. This is a very serious matter because with everything that is now known the question rises why they do that.

Fact is that journalists working for the Bhutanese exiles in Nepal have continuously experienced trouble ranging from threats and abuse to extremely slow processing of their files for their resettlement resulting in unnecessary prolonged life in the refugee camps. This seems not only to be the case for active journalists but also for community workers.

From a personal angle I have to state that I have witnessed incidents and heard experiences from people I got to know while filming the situation concerning Bhutanese exiles in Nepal. Those incidents and experiences strengthen me in my conviction that also in this case the truth lies far from what Jit Subba is being accused of. For me it is obvious that human rights of Bhutanese exiles are structurally abused by the authorities. This concerns community workers, unregistered refugees and others who are left in limbo on their position and the way the third country resettlement project of the UNHCR is executed in some cases. The claim that Jit Subba was having a Nepali passport on him is something that is for me not surprising knowing the despair of youth who are actively supporting their own people with the side effect of seeing their own third country resettlement not happening. Eighteen years in a refugee camps can drive people crazy up to the point that out of despair they’ll do anything to escape to a better and more human life.

Jit Bahadur Subba seems to be the victim of this and might very well be proven innocent after a transparent and honest police inquiry. The fact that he has been severely tortured by police is by now undeniable, which is a disgrace for a country that is in the process of finalizing a new constitution aimed at bringing peace and order.

If nothing happens I will have to fear for the life of someone I regard a friend.

Alice Verheij © 2012

Six women.


Video courtesy of Bhutan News Service, filmed at Beldangi 2 on April 29, 2012

Six Women

Six women who do not exist
Waiting till death hard fist
Self chosen fate

Because their life is no life
No joy, not even for a while
Too often betrayed

Eyes directed the other way
Don’t see their loss, hear their say
They are not there

No one stands in front and stays
Or takes away their pains
In defence

When police throws them in a car
Resistance broken, no help so far
In their despair

Treated as if without rights
Because politics always decides
To force them to live

Alice © 2012

I feel powerless in support of these women I’ve met and respect deeply for their perseverence.
It’s always the women that pay the price in international conflicts and international disregard. 

More information on how these women are treated, lied at and cheated can be found elsewhere on this website and on www.bhutannewsservice.com

How CNN does not do it’s work on Bhutan’s behaviour.

I am appalled by CNN’s lack of journalistic fact finding and truth seeking considering Bhutan. This is my response to the article on their website on the UN Happiness Summit:http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/2012/04/01/the-u-n-happiness-summit
CNN published this blog from Stewart Patrick without any comment and without any hint of the Bhutanese reality. They are not doing what they should do on this topic as a free press organization.

The U.N. Happiness Summit

globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com

Editor’s Note: Stewart Patrick is a Senior Fellow and the Director of the Program on International Institutions and Global Governance at the Council on Foreign Relations. He is the author of Weak Links: Fragile States, Global Threats, and International Security. By Stewart Patrick, CFR.

My response:

Dear all at CNN, dear Stewart, dear readers,

I am flabagasted and to be quite honest disgusted by the onesided views presented in this article on this website. I am amazed that CNN without any criticism lends itself for the propaganda of the Bhutanese government. Let me explain.

It is a well known an proven fact that in recent history (early ninetees) the King and government of Bhutan have been orchestrating the percentage wise largest ethnic cleansing of it’s own population resulting in about 1/6th of the population being forcefully thrown out of the country. They have done so after a decade of discrimination, human rights violations, oppression including army killings, imprisoning innocent citizens, torture of political prisoners, stealing land, houses, cattle and goods. Of their own people living in the south and east of Bhutan for the simple fact that they are ethnically and religiously different from the Druk minority that holds power in Thimpu.

Over the past twenty years way over 120000 refugees have lived in and around refugee camps instated and maintained by the UNHCR without Bhutan giving any sign of allowing repatriation. Mr. Thinley, the prime minister, has been and still is the mastermind of both that ethnic cleansing as the cover up operation of the export of the concept of Gross National Happiness that te west has been all to eager to accept as a great way to look at what really counts in life.

Bhutan is constantly stating that Gross National Happiness is what it all should be about and is supported in that by the governments of the very countries that are now taking in 1/6th of Bhutan’s population through the largest massive third country resettlement project. Triggered by the US and executed by the UNHCR and IOM this resettlement program is in fact throwing the exiles from Bhutan in diaspora in a timeframe 6 or 7 years. It therebye passively supports the Bhutanese ethnic cleansing policy.

It is horrific to have to conclude that the free press is silent on this but is noise on the concept of Gross National Happiness as advocated by the government of Bhutan. It is downright disgusting that the UN is hosting an event to give this dictatorial government the opportunity to spread it’s lies and deceit while at the same time it is the UN that is shifting around 100.000 Bhutanese the globe unjustly.

It is also crazy to know that Bhutan is a memeber of the United Nations based on false data on the number of inhabitants in it’s country (when they joined they grossly overstated the number of Bhutanese to be over 1 Million whereas at the time any reasonable guess would have given a figure of around 700000 inhabitants which is under the minimal required inhabitants for a country to be a UN member). Bhutan has been living a lie since the 1980’s and has abused it’s population. It is in fact one of the biggest human rights violators when taken it’s size as a country into account.

When will the international community and when will the international press stop supporting the geopolitical framing of the Himalayan reality which is in fact one of poverty, unhappiness, ethnic cleansing and human rights violations. As a writer, film maker and journalist I am apalled by the lack of journalistic fact finding and thruth seeking in this article and many other media considering Bhutan.

Yours truly,
Alice Verheij
director of the upcoming documentary ‘Headwind, the forgotten exiles from Bhutan’
the Netherlands
www.headwindfilm.com

Fulbright Program: US academic arrogance at work.

Sometime ago I wrote an email to the US Fulbright Program (funded by the US government) about a scholarship they gave to a scholar to study the conceot of Gross National Happiness in Bhutan. Paid by them and thus paid by the US tax payers. As people reading my publications are probably well aware the concept of Gross National Happiness is a hoax. A cover up of te reality that Bhutan is in fact the country with the terrible history of being the percentagewise largent ethnic cleansing nation of the last 50 years if not longer.

This, dear readers, is the response of the Fulbright program to the questions asked:

This of course means that they simply do not want to answer the questions raised and hide their responsibility behind their acclaimed history as an academic organization of importance. Fulbright is with this answer the hallmark of US academic arrogance and certainly does not enter into discussions about theit granting policies in regard to human rights breaching nations. My answer to them is this:

My conclusions based on the response from Fulbright are obvious. These ‘academics‘ are disgusting and more interested in supporting human rights violating regimes than entering discussions about their policies. Interesting enough it is the same government of the US that is funding most of the third country resettlement effort of UNHCR to resettle the Bhutanese exiles who were exiled by the government that Fulbright is actively supporting.

That attitude reminds me of the books of Karl May in which the North American indians frequently state about their American counterparts that they are speaking with split tongues. Deceitful and manipulative. It is sad to see that Fulbright is still having that General Custer attitude.

Alice © 2012

A letter to the Fulbright International Educational Exchange Program.

Today I have send the following email to the Fulbright Program. In astounishment after reading an article of some time ago that was published in an American newspaper about a scholar who was granted a scholarship to go studying Gross National Happiness in Bhutan.

This is the link to the article in the Portland Herald and before that published in the Sentinel.
This is of course the link to the article written by Kai Bird in The Nation.

Dear Fulbright people,

today I’ve read this article in The Portland Press Herald concerning a scholarship for a study by Mrs. Gretchen Lechler who plans to travel to Bhutan to study Gross National Happiness:
I am amazed and quite honestly astounded by this.
Because yesterday I read this article by Pulitzer Price winner Kai Bird about the Bhutanese diaspora and the cost of that for the US, the international community, Bhutan and the Bhutanese refugees:
I have personally spend six months in 2011 in Nepal to work on the first feature length documentary about the Bhutanese exile and the third country resettlement project of the UNHCR and it’s effects. So I know very well the reality of Bhutan. By experience.
It is totally flabagasting to see a US government funded organization to spend a load of money on a scholarship for studying the myth of Gross National Happiness in a country that is in reality percentagewise the largest ethnic cleansing country in recent history. Especially since it is the same US government that has started the resettlement effort on request of the UNHCR and is actually welcoming over 60,000 Bhutanese refugees to become US citizens.
This scholarship is a disgrace, as is this study that Mrs. Lechler is undertaking. There is no way that Gross National Happiness can be objectively studied without extensive visiting of the Bhutanese refugee camps and realizing that a large portion of the Bhutanese people is all but happy.
I sincerely request your organization to think again because by this scholarship Fulbright is actually passively supporting human rights violations. And preferably, to request Mrs. Lechler to study GNH in the Bhutanese community in exile. To do that she doesn’t even have to leave the US. If needed I can provide all relevent contacts for that and am more than willing to assist in any possible way.
With kind regards,
Alice Verheij
writer, film maker, journalist
The Hague, Netherlands / Kathmandu, Nepal
Alice © 2012

Pulitzer Price winner’s article republished on Headwind website.

Today The Nation granted me the rights to republishing an article written by Pulitzer Price winner Kai Bird on the Headwind website. Kai Bird’s article is an excellent account of recent history concerning the Bhutanese ethnic cleansing and exile in the early ninetees of last century, the ongoing resettlement of Bhutanese refugees and the long term to be expected effects of this on the position of Bhutan, it’s king and government.

Kai Bird won the Pulitzer Prize with his excellent co-authoring on a biography of Robert Oppenheimer, the ‘invertor’ of the atomic bomb. Mr. Bird has work for many years in the Middle East and has recently published his autobiographic ‘Crossing Mandelbaum Gate‘ about the Israeli – Palestinian conflict and how he has lived, grown and endured in the region. Mr. Bird has lived for some time in Kathmandu, Nepal and recently traveled to Bhutan and was a guest of the royals.

‘The Enigma of Bhutan’ is an absolute must read for anyone interested in the Bhutanese ethnic cleansing and exile, the ongoing largest UNHCR third country resettlement project and the effects of this all on Bhutan.

The article is published in The Nation’s March 26, 2012 issue and can be read on the website of the Nation and on the Headwind website.

Alice

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

Aftermath of Bhutanese refugee camp Beldangi 2 fire.

UPDATE :
According to Bhutan News Service the Government of Nepal provided a cash aid of Rs 1000 (less than €10) each for 54 huts razed by fire on Friday morning. However, no donations have been made available to households whose huts were destroyed while preventing the mishap. Around three dozen of huts fall in this category, according to Camp Secretary of Beldangi camp. The current price for a hut is around Rs 2400 at least.
This means that some 30 families will not be rehoused if they are not financially supported and all other victims will not be able to rebuild their huts completely without financial support.
It is only natural that UNHCR is pressed to add funds from the refugee budget for this needed support. Unless anyone else brings in these needed funds!

The fire is under control and extinguished. The number of destroyed huts is according to one source 85 huts with 250 displaced refugees who are now housed in the English language school for the time being. More info will become available after some time. The location of the start of the fire is known and the cause is being researched.

Tragically the fire started in the hut of the former camp secretary of Goldhap camp, his family now been struck by massive fire for the third time in 4 years.

Luckily enough there seem to be no casualties and international aid organizations have arrived at the scene to scale up relief work. There were problems with late arrival of fire squads. No human casualties have been reported according to the Bhutan News Service sources. More information is available on www.bhutannewsservice.com.


video courtesy of Kumar Mishra / Bhutan News Service 

This information came to me while events were still happening:

The fire inferno in bel 2, nearly more then 300 huts burnt.
 Police say investigation is under proces.
 3 water tankers still r trying to control fire bt not progres.
 Fire begain at 1.09 am acording 2 eye witnesses n stil going on....

Beldangi 2 is struck by fire again. Every year there are fires in this time of year. Last year in March an enormous fire destroyed the Goldhap camp that was dismantled last summer with it’s inhabitants moving to the Beldangi camps. And now that camp caught fire in the night. The fire started in sector B/2 after 1 am local time this Friday. Because this was a nightly fire it was very difficult to get under control but by preventively dismantling around 35 huts the camps inhabitants have been able to prevent further spread of the fire.

Affected area is on the left of the central crossing in the camp. (Map by Google Maps)

photo courtesy of Kumar Mishra / Bhutan News Service 

Beldangi 2 is currently the most densely populated Bhutanese refugee camp in Nepal with refugees recently arriving from the Timay camp. Fires are one of the main hazards of camp life and are the immediate result of a combination of factors. Huts are constructed of materials that catch fire easily, in the period February to May there is little rain, rising temperature and sometimes strong winds making small fires spread quickly, the huts are build very close together increasing the risk of fires jumping to other huts and to top it all there is no fire squad stationed at the camps. Fire squads will have to come from Damak (4 km’s) and places like Itihari and Kakarbitta making swift response impossible. The effect of the latter being important time loss when fires do break out and therefore increasing the risk of massive camp fires. The Beldangi camp has this time been very lucky that the didn’t spread and destroy a much larger portion of the camp as happened last year at the Goldhap camp. Especially now that the Beldangi camp has recently been repopulated with refugees from the now dismantled Goldhap and Timay camps. Fires are next to increasing social problems the main worry of everyone who knows the scene.

This report was made possible thanks to swift communication with sources from Bhutan News Service and others in the area.

Alice Verheij © 2012

Is resettlement a solution and a success?

As you all know I am pretty much involved with the fate of the Bhutanese exiles and especially with ones who have been resettled to my country and the ones who are left behind in the refugee camps in Nepal.

Today I read the following on Bhutan News Service, the webzine that is the only viable news source from the global Bhutanese community with good access to the refugee camps and the communities in the resettlement countries. They have become a trusted and all important news agency for te Bhutanese people focussing on Bhutanese in exile. No matter what the Bhutanese government is saying by the way. Anyway, this is what was written:

If everything goes as projected by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and resettling countries, at least 10.37 percent of exiled Bhutanese are likely to remain in the camps when the ongoing resettlement program ceases by 2015.

The initial camp population of 113, 486 has come down to 54,652 as 58,834 individuals have left for various western countries by January 19 this year, according to the UNHCR.

In total, 49,396 exiled refugees have left for the US, 4,213 for Canada, 3,217 for Australia, 589 for New Zealand, 612 for Denmark, 372 for Norway, 324 for the Netherlands, and 111 for the United Kingdom.

Of the remaining residents, at least 42,873 individuals have declared an interest in resettlement. Once this figure leaves for resettlement, the camp population will come down to 11,779.

The information is – as always – pretty reliable. But honestly, it’s also incomplete. Because the figures do not take into account the reality completely. Thing is, in the refugee camps live another over 3,500 refugees who have for various reasons not been registered as refugee by the Nepal government and therefore do not show up in the UN based statistics. So, if policy doesn’t change and there poor people are not counted and their situation managed properly the real figure of the population in the camps (by 2014 probably only the Beldangi camp will be left) will be closer to 15.000.

Giving a Journalism Training in Beldangi 2 camp, Summer 2011

And that is not all. Not all refugees live in the camps. Some (and their number really is unknown) live outside the camps in Nepal. Often in dire straits as they have no civil rights. And many live in India in Sikkim, Assam and elsewhere. Still they too are refugees, the ones in India obviously not acknowledged as such because there is the 1948 treaty between Bhutan and India stating that Bhutanese are allowed to travel, live and work in India. But these are the ones that can not return to Bhutan. They are just as well refugees and their figure is unknown. Only estimates exist that run upto 20.000.

So the worst case scenario of the number of remaining Bhutanese refugees in the Himalayan region really should be close to 35.000 and not less than 12.000 in 2014.
It is the way figures like these 11,779 in 2014 are communicated by the UN and the international community that assist in the cover up of reality. So the UNHCR statement that the resettlement is a success is based on the reality of the statistics simply not true. Of course it’s also not a failure, but a success is really sometinhg else.

The other thing that’s against the PR from the international community is the thoughts that resettlement is a good solution to the problem. Well, honestly is many cases of young people it certainly is for them. But many resettlers are older than 35. Which means that it is not certain they will be able to adjust to western society and for the elderly it is pretty clear that they never will. The social issues in the resettled communities are diverse and form a heavy burden. Issues like lack of possibilities to exercise religion, home sickness, loss of culture, conflicts in families because age differences and adjustment problems to western society, broken friendships and continuing long distance family ties that are increasingly difficult to handle are but a few of the issues burdening resettled refugees. Life is often a struggle that is not always lessened by resettlement. Because:

Imagine being in 40 years old.
Imagine that in the past you were driven into exile and ended up without any hope for a decent future in a refugee camp.
Imagine living under bamboo roofs and simple soil for most of your life. Next to the river where the dead are being cremated.
Imagine loosing sight of friends and family who have been resettled from your daily existence.
Imagine that one day you might very well resettle to a far away country with a culture that is completely different from your own.
Imagine you have children whom you want to have a better life.
Imagine that in reality you long to return to the country you were born.
Imagine there is no mandir to go to.
Imagine not to be able to eat the food you are used too… because it’s nowhere to be found.
Imagine living a town or village and being the only one from your people, being the alien in the minds of your neighbours and anyone else.
Imagine having to learn another very complicated language in a few years to be able to have some sort of life, and if you don’t succeed you’ll get a penalty or will not ever get a passport meaning you will never really be free.
Imagine all that…

Would that be seen as a success? Western society does a lot for refugees who have been resettled but still it starts of as a completely alien place to live. Surviving there is not easy at all and while in the end most will find their way through perseverence it is never an easy path to go. And western society is not becoming nicer to immigrants. So, where UNHCR speaks of a success it should also push the governments of the resettlement countries to really take their responsibilities and support the immigrants and their communities to find some sort of new life that is acceptable. These responsibilities are certainly not always met because much support is being broken down as an effect of the global financial crisis leaving imigrants more on their own and with less support than is reasonable. And don’t forget, once resettled there is no way back. Ever.

It is for all this that I will have to continue writing, filming an photographing the reality of the Bhutanese resettlement. Because in my country, in the west, most people simply have no idea.

If you feel that you might be able to support me, the Headwind team and the Empowerment Foundation, please make that decision and do so. It’s easy. Buy a Headwind production share or become donor. Help us finishing the documentary that will dive into the issue of the Bhutanese in exile and resettlement. The first feature length film that covers it all and will be screened globally. We need your support and we need it now! Send an email to alice@empowermentfoundation.nl or goto to the Headwind website and check the crowdfunding page!

Alice © 2012

Headwind production team brought donations to Beldangi hunger strikers.

Dear readers and visitors,

Attached here is a newsitem as published on the Bhutan News Service, the information regarding the handover of donation funds for food and first needs support from the Dutch Nepal Foundation (Vereniging Nederland Nepal) by the Empowerment Foundation’s Headwind Nepal Production Team in co-operation with BRAIN (Bhutanese Refugees Association of Intellectual Novas) on Janury 3, 2012 in the Beldangi 2 refugee camp in Nepal to the ex hunger strikers.

Please read and support the Bhutanese refugees, the making of the Headwind documentary and the Empowerment Foundation for making this charity work possible.

Alice © 2012
director of Headwind
communications Empowerment Foundation
www.headwindfilm.com
www.empowermentfoundation.nl