Reciprocal Access to Bhutan Act: not in impossible domain

By Ram Karki

The former Bhutanese refugees, most of who have now acquired US Citizenship or in the process of acquiring one, have a good reason to see a ray of hope in The Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act that was signed into law by the US President on December 19, 2018.

As per this law all the American diplomats, journalists and ordinary citizens including Tibetan American must have equal access to the Tibetan Autonomous Region as their Chinese counterparts enjoy in the US. Tibetan Americans, who still have families and friends in Tibet, must be given visas by the Chinese authorities to visit them without any restrictions. Any Chinese authorities who denies such visas and access will be identified and such people will never get visa to visit USA.

“For too long, China has covered up their human rights violations in Tibet by restricting travel. But actions have consequences, and today, we are one step closer to holding the Chinese officials who implement these restrictions accountable,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass), who introduced the bill. “I look forward to watching closely as our law is implemented, and continuing to stand with the people of Tibet in their struggle for religious and cultural freedom.”

There is high degree of chances that this can be replicated in the Bhutanese case as well. Tibetan and Bhutanese issues have many things in common and a strong advocacy campaign would eventuate to have similar enactment in the Bhutanese case.

Both Tibetan Americans and Bhutanese Americans have family members, relatives and friends back in their countries who have limited access to their relatives in exile.

Both Chinese and Bhutanese regime impose restriction on return of the individuals from exile to see their families and friends. Like Tibetans in exile, a large number of Bhutanese in exile have citizenship of USA and bigger chunk of the exiled population from both communities live in USA.

Bhutan and China both have restricted foreigners, diplomats, journalists, human rights organisations and UN representatives from visiting certain parts of the country in order to hide continuous abuse and violations of human rights in the region.

These countries have never allowed any independent experts or third party to investigate the alleged human rights violations in their country.

Both China and Bhutan have many political prisoners languishing in jails without access to their families, received to fair trial and their whereabouts are unknown.

With so much of similarities between the causes of the Tibetans and Bhutanese, there is enough scope for Bhutanese Americans to see ray of hope for similar action in Bhutan. Bhutanese American intellectuals must make united efforts towards making such initiative a reality. Those resettled in other countries may look into possibilities of similar action in their countries, if not provide impetus to the US campaign.

All the former Bhutanese Citizens who now hold foreign passports and are willing to travel to Bhutan as a tourist must be allowed to visit and meet their friends and relatives. However, they have been denied such visas on grounds that they were born in Bhutan and were subsequently evicted. One such evidence of denying visa to a Bhutanese Australian have surfaced recently in social media. The denial letter says:

Dear Indra
We deeply regret we have been advised by the Bhutan Immigration Dept, via BTCL – our partner operator in Bhutan, that you will not be granted a visa to enter Bhutan.

This is due to your ‘Bhutan Refugee’ status which we, along with BTCL, were not aware of at any time during the booking process. We have been advised that it is not possible for any former Bhutanese resident, who has since become a Bhutanese refugee, to be permitted entry into Bhutan under any circumstance.

We have been instructed to cancel your Bhutan flights and land tour reservations and we are now seeking authority for a full refund of monies paid to Bhutan on your behalf. We will endeavour to recover these funds and refund them to you as soon as possible.

Should you have any desire to take this matter up with the Bhutan Govt you will need to send any further requests direct to their Immigration personnel, however it is our understanding this would be fruitless as their decision is final and has never before been waived.

Naturally we are as sad about this matter as you will be, having given your reservations much time and effort, for a less than happy result.
Please send through your bank account details for us to make a future refund to and we will be back with you again re your tour refund as soon as possible.

Yours faithfully,
James Irving / Director.

The above letter has made it amply clear to all the former Bhutanese citizens who have now resettled in developed countries but were evicted by the Bhutanese regime won’t be issued visa under any circumstances. This will complicate family reunion process and denied rights to travel to any country of their choice. It is unlikely they will see and know their families and friends in their country of birth.

The Bhutanese-Americans will have the opportunity to prepare the foundation for action to enact similar laws. Those resettled in other countries are highly likely to follow their suites. A stronger campaign will certainly receive response from their political leadership and hope for similar legislation is not out of possibility.

Let’s work for ‘Reciprocal Access to Bhutan Act’.

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