After storm, suffering overtakes Bhutanese refugees

By Sudeshna Sarkar


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Kathmandu : After the waves of violence that lashed the Bhutanese refugees in Nepal this week, leaving four dead and over 90 injured, suffering has overtaken the survivors, with dozens missing, hundreds stranded and many unable to get medical treatment.

It was a grim scene in Dharan town in eastern Nepal, where the injured refugees have flocked for treatment.

"We have been receiving information that medical centres are refusing to admit the injured unless they can make a cash down payment," Vidhyapati Mishra, secretary of Association of Press Freedom Activists-Bhutan, said.

"There are tales of people with bullet wounds being refused treatment because they don't have money."

Thousands of Bhutanese, forced to live in close camps in Nepal since the 90s following their eviction by the Bhutan government due to their Nepali origin, are in dire straits after erupting in defiance this week.

The first violence occurred inside a camp Sunday after militant inmates, who want to return to Bhutan, attacked someone who favours accepting the recent offer by the US to resettle the refugees on American soil.

The tension spread to other camps and as Nepal security forces intervened, two Bhutanese teenaged boys were killed in the police firing.

From the camps, the violence spread outside on Monday – the day Bhutan was holding a mock election – as over 8,000 refugees defied curfew to begin their 'Long March' to Bhutan.

Under the banner of the National Front for Democracy, three Bhutanese parties in exile, that have been barred from the polls, led the refugees on a march back to the homeland from where they were evicted 16 years ago.

However, they were stopped by the Indian border security force when they reached the strip of Indian land they have to cross to reach Bhutan.

Two more refugees, including a woman, died in the firing by Indian security forces Tuesday, creating an international furore.

The bad media caused the Indian authorities to hold talks with the refugee leaders and Nepali authorities, resulting in the march being called off.

Now while the leaders wait for the Indian side to keep their bargain – to convey to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh the demand to make Bhutan start repatriation talks within 15 days – the camps are in disarray.

"Hundreds of marchers have been stranded on the road, unable to return to their camps," Mishra said. "They don't have money to return."

Several people are missing still. Some of them are feared to have been arrested.

While Nepal Police have arrested seven refugees and charged them with violence, Indian security forces are said to have arrested at least two more.

"Chetan Khanal of Golchhap camp and Dinesh Rai of Khudunabari camp are still missing," Nepal's Kantipur daily said Friday.

Khanal is a teacher in a school run for the refugee children in one of the camps.

The daily said the two are believed to have been arrested by the Indian authorities and are likely to be charged with being associated with the Communist Party of Bhutan-Marxist-Leninist-Maoist, reportedly trying to foment an armed uprising against monarchy in Bhutan.