Refugees in Eastern Nepal to be resettled
By Kuensel, Buhutan's National Newspaper
In a press conference with Bhutanese newspaper, radio and television reporters yesterday in Thimphu, the U.S. government’s Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration, Ms Ellen R Sauerbrey, said that she had announced a year ago that the U.S. was interested in resettling 60,000 of the refugees over five years, but there was no limit and no quota to the U.S. offer.
“…there is no cap if more than 60,000 people are interested in being resettled and are referred to our programme by UNHCR,” she said. “We will take those who come forward and qualify. Most will qualify unless someone has a record of violence against citizens, major threats and intimidations involving violence in the camps. We are not cherry picking. We do not take these people on the basis that they are highly skilled or the best educated or the healthiest or the youngest, we will take them across the board and on their own interest to come to the U.S.”
Mrs Sauerbrey, who visited Kathmandu and the refugee camps before coming to Bhutan, said that the process was formally launched after Nepalese officials went to the camps with her delegation and announced publicly the Nepalese government’s support of the resettlement programmes.
She said that UNHCR, in the meantime, had already received, informally, applications from 3,000 people who desired to be resettled. “We have an overseas processing entity set up to do the resettlement work,” she explained. “In this case it is the international organization of migration. They have built a very significant complex where the interviews, medical examinations, and cultural orientation are done. It is functioning now and the first interviews are going on.”
“Our goal this year is to interview about 15,000 and, in the next few years, we are expecting 20,000 to 25,000 per year, based on the refugees having an interest themselves,” she added. “It is purely voluntary.”
The Assistant Secretary of State said that, for the U.S. government, which was very focused on helping to resolve protracted refugee situations, it was a humanitarian issue. “I have been in many refugee camps around the world and they are certainly not nice places to live no matter how nicely they are run,” she said. “We also know that refugees who see no hope or future are easily radicalized and we think this is really a critical time and this issue of this population needs to be resolved quickly before it becomes more fermenting in the region.”
Mrs Sauerbrey was accompanied on her four-day visit to Bhutan by the Overseas Program Officer of the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, Ms Lisa L Meyer, a State Department specialist on South Asia, Mr Jonathan Daniell, and the Political Officer at the U.S. embassy in India, Ms Reva Gupta.
The delegation held discussions with His Majesty the fourth Druk Gyalpo, the Prime Minister, Lyonpo Kinzang Dorji, the Chief Justice, Lyonpo Sonam Tobgye, the Chief Election Commissioner, Dasho Kunzang Wangdi, the leaders of the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa and the People’s Democratic Party, former ministers Jigmi Thinley and Sangay Ngedup, and the Resident Coordinator for the UN System, Mr Nicholas Rosellini.
Mrs Sauerbrey said that resettlement could resolve a major part of the problem but there were people in the camps who were genuinely Bhutanese citizens and would very much like to come home. “The US and many other international communities do believe that Bhutan has a moral obligation with people who are genuinely Bhutanese citizens, to let them come home,” she said.
She told the Bhutanese media that it had been a good opportunity to discuss with His Majesty and government officials on how the process could move forward. “His Majesty was very generous to give his time and it was a very good opportunity to talk through the difficulties of the people in the camps and how Bhutan can move forward when there is a government in place after the elections and when Nepal has a government in place to get this process back on track.”
Mrs Sauerbrey said that the visit to Bhutan had also been a good opportunity to get a better understanding of the movement to develop democratic institutions in Bhutan. “As a former elected person in my own country, I was very interested in how the whole political process is developing, how campaigns would be structured, and the perception of the people,” she said. “I have to say that I am extremely impressed with His Majesty.
This is an historic event when a Monarch, a person who hold such powers, is willing to give it up and understands that there can be good Kings and bad Kings and the people may be happy with this King and there could be a future King who is a tyrant and will oppress people.”
The U.S. was a country built on strong democratic traditions and cherished the right of the people to self-determination, she said. “So it is a huge step that has been taken. We are very excited and supportive to see democracy blooming. I think Bhutan has the potential of being a model in this region where there is so much turmoil. In terms of how the process is shaping up, we certainly recognize that there are going to be a lot of pains that people have to be educated about what democracy is, political party has to be formed, they have to understand their role, have to develop a reason for existence.”
Mrs Sauerbrey told the media that His Majesty the fourth Druk Gyalpo was most gracious in thanking the United States for taking this major step in trying to solve an the issue that had been a stalemate for a long period of time. She said that His Majesty was interested in seeing more development and opportunities for people in the rural areas in Bhutan but was absolutely determined that he was not going to be involved in the political process.
Bhutan’s Caretaker Prime Minister, Lyonpo Kinzang Dorji, told Kuensel that the government commended the humanitarian efforts of the U.S. government to solve a problem that was very complex with serious implications for the South Asian region.
“The government of Bhutan is fully committed to the agreement we have already signed with the government of Nepal,” he said. “Our new government will be in place early next year and I sincerely hope that the two governments will be able to move ahead with the bilateral process on this protracted issue. We welcome the initiative taken by the U.S. government and it is our collective responsibility to ensure a comprehensive and permanent solution to the problem.”
The U.S. delegation will visit India from tomorrow to talk about India’s role in this effort to resolve the problem. The officials also discussed the Tibetan refugee problem in Nepal and India where the officials will visit Dharamsala.
Ms Ellen R Sauerbrey has been the Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration since January, 2006. She has served as U.S. Representative to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women and has spoken at numerous international women’s conferences. She represented the U.S. at the 2003 World Family Policy Forum in Provo, Utah, the International Congress on the Family in Mexico City and World Family Congress III. She also held conferences on family issues in Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Costa Rica, and led the U.S. delegation to the 2004 Ninth Annual Conference of Women in Latin America.
President Bush appointed Ms Sauerbrey to represent the United States at the March–April 2001 session of the UN Commission on Human Rights and to the U.S. delegations to the 2002 and 2003 substantive sessions of the Economic and Social Council and the UN General Assembly. During the 2003 session of the General Assembly, she led the negotiations that culminated in the successful adoption of the U.S.-proposed resolution on Women and Political Participation, with 110 co-sponsors.
Ms Sauerbrey has served as the Minority Leader of the Maryland House of Delegates and was the 1994 and 1998 Republican nominee for Governor of Maryland. A former teacher, she was elected to represent her northern Maryland district in the Maryland Legislature from 1978-1994, and served as Minority Leader from 1986-1994. An expert in economic, budget, and fiscal issues, she served on the Economic Matters, Ways and Means, and Appropriations Committees, among others.