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Bhutanese Refugee Scam: How it has turned into a political crisis for Nepal?

Nepal, the landlocked country in the Himalayas, which is already marred by reports of rampant corruption and human rights violations, finds itself embroiled in yet another scam. Prominent politicians and top-ranking bureaucrats stand accused of accepting money from Nepalese citizens under the false promise of resettling them in the United States as Bhutanese refugees. The gravity of this scandal has sent shockwaves throughout the nation, raising concerns about corruption and deception at the highest levels of power. As investigations unfold, the true extent of the fraud is gradually coming to light.

What is the Bhutanese refugee scam?

The Bhutanese refugee scam first came to public attention in April after an investigative report was published by the Center for Investigative Journalism-Nepal. The expose shed light on a sophisticated scheme involving senior politicians and bureaucrats who allegedly accepted bribes from Nepalese nationals, offering to facilitate their resettlement as Bhutanese refugees in the United States. This revelation prompted Nepal’s Home Minister, Narayan Kaji Shrestha, to direct the police to initiate a thorough investigation into the matter. In the aftermath of this scandal, investigations have gained momentum, resulting in the arrest of former high-ranking government officials and politicians. One notable figure apprehended in connection to the scam is Nepal’s former home minister, Balkrishna Khand.

Background of refugee crisis

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the government of Bhutan, in an effort to preserve Bhutanese culture, forcibly expelled thousands of Lhotshampas (individuals of Nepali heritage) from the country. Seeking asylum in neighbouring nations, particularly Nepal, the majority of these displaced people found refuge in refugee camps in the districts of Morang and Jhapa.

International efforts, spearheaded by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), aimed to resettle these refugees in third countries, with a significant number finding new homes in the United States and Europe. From 2007 to 2016, the UNHCR successfully resettled over 113,500 Bhutanese refugees in eight different countries, marking one of the largest global resettlement programs, as per the UNHCR Nepal Factsheet, March 2023.

Presenting Nepalese citizens as Bhutanese refugees

The whole plan involved the fabrication of fake Bhutanese refugee documents, exploiting the aspirations of numerous Nepali individuals who dreamt of a better life abroad. These individuals were promised resettlement in foreign countries like the United States and Canada in exchange for substantial sums of money. The revelation of this scam has not only exposed the scale of corruption but has also raised doubts about the authenticity of genuine refugee claims.

As investigations into the Bhutanese refugee scam continue, UNHCR has expressed its support for the government’s actions and welcomed the investigation. It is crucial for Nepal to root out corruption, hold those responsible accountable, and restore public trust in the country’s political system.

Meanwhile, genuine Bhutanese refugees who were left out of the third-country resettlement program have staged peaceful demonstrations, demanding proper rehabilitation for their compatriots. The plight of these refugees, coupled with the alarming revelation of the scam, highlights the need for comprehensive measures to address the long-standing issues surrounding Bhutanese refugees and ensure justice for all parties involved.

The Bhutanese refugee scam has plunged Nepal into a severe political crisis, tarnishing the reputation of high-ranking officials and politicians. As investigations progress, it is essential for Nepal to demonstrate its commitment to transparency, accountability, and justice. Only by addressing this scandal head-on can the nation begin to heal and restore public faith in its governance.

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