Refugees secretly reunite with separated families

By Parbat Portel

A group of Bhutanese exiles at a refugee camp in Nepal
A group of Bhutanese exiles at a refugee camp in Nepal

A Bhutan ese refugee living in Sanischare Refugee Camp in Nepal, Shyam Bahadur Chettri’s (name changed) parents are however residents of Chuka district in Bhutan . And during the auspicious occasion of Dashain festival, Chettri secretly met his

parents in Jaigaun, India, to receive Dashain Tika. After a brief meet, Chettri parted ways with his parents promising to meet them again next year.

During a Bhutan ese government crackdown, thousands upon thousands of native Bhutan ese of Nepali origin were dishonorably chased away from their homeland in the 90s and were forced to live as refugees in Nepal. While some lost their parents, others were separated from their children and loved ones. But one can only do so much to break apart family ties bonded by blood, emotions and sentiments.

And for them, Jaigaun, an Indian border town that shares border with Bhutan has served as a humble rendezvous point, bringing separated families together. While the Seema Surakshya Bal is deployed on the Indian side, the presence of Bhutan ese security personnel is substantial on the other side of the border in Phunsling.

In Jaigaun, the Bhutan ese exiles have found a way to share a moment with their loved ones. Every year, Bhutan ese nationals of Nepali origin travel to Jaigaun from the seven districts of Bhutan to meet their separated family members residing in refugee camps in Nepal. “This is the place where the Bhutan ese exiles meet their seperated families and loved ones, especially during the festival,” said a local journalist Tilak Bahadur Chettri.

According to Chettri, while it is near impossible for a refugee to enter Bhutan , travelling to Jaigaun from Bhutan nationals is not much of a problem. “But if the police finds out about the refugees, they immediately arrest them. Thus they meet briefly and part ways promising to meet at the next opportune time,” Chettri said. A couple of months ago some refugees who had arrived in Jaigaun to meet the separated family members were held by police and later released.

The declaration of the Bhutan i Communist Party, which launched an armed revolution for their ‘home-return campaign’, is said to be the reason behind the heavy presence of security personnel along the border. “The main problem is that they take each and every refugees for an activist of the party ,” said a local leader of Jaigaun. Although there are several noted examples of arrests made by the Bhutan ese authorities with assistance from the Indian police in the past, the situation is not as persistent now since most of the refugees have settled abroad as part of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) third country resettlement programme.

“The Bhutan ese regime had adopted a strict policy against repatriation of the refugees, but following the programme it has acknowledged that the threat is not as obstinate, hence the situation has eased a lot,” said a local politician Bishnu Tamang.

Amidst the chaos and uncertainty, Jaigaun has continued breaking the physical barriers separating one from the other and unobtrusively providing a haven for the separated families.

From eKantipur

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