More than a thousand Nepalese women married to Bhutanese refugees fear they may be left out of the third country resettlement programme and end up separated from their families.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNCHR), in collaboration with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), has been assisting Bhutanese refugees with third country resettlement to seven countries - the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, The Netherlands, Denmark and Norway - since 2008.
Over 15,000 of the roughly 107,000 Bhutanese refugees have resettled in these countries, with more expected in the coming months, UNHCR reported.
“It hasn’t been easy for us. We’ve been separated from our relatives who have left for foreign countries while we are desperately waiting our turn,” a 30-year-old Nepalese woman, Kamala Regmi, said at the Beldangi refugee camp in Damak, Jhapa District, some 500km southeast of Kathmandu.
Whilst her husband, Gopal, might qualify for resettlement, Kamala as a Nepalese citizen would not.
“We were married many years before the issue of third country resettlement came up. Now we neither belong to Nepal nor to Bhutan,” Kamala said. She met her refugee husband nearly 12 years ago in Tanahu District, where he was looking for work, and later joined him at the camp where they now live with their three children.
About a year ago, the family applied for resettlement in the USA, where according to UNHCR, some 14,000 refugees have already been resettled, but lack of approval for Kamala’s application has affected the whole family.
Santoshi Gurung, a Nepali woman married to a Bhutanese refugee for the last seven years, also does not know if she will qualify for resettlement.
“I even cancelled my Nepali citizenship and passport to qualify as a refugee but it seems I will not have the same privileges,” said Gurung.
[Nepal] Prem Chhetri, 37, a Bhutanese refugee at the Khundunabari refugee camp in Nepal's southeastern Jhapa district, still dreams of one day returning to his homeland. There are an estimated 107,000 Bhutanese refugees in Nepal today. [Date picture take
Photo: David Swanson/IRIN
Over 15,000 Bhutanese refugees have been resettled in the past 14 months, with more expected in the coming months (file photo)
“The children are affected the most because now they have been separated from their uncles, cousins and grandparents,” said Gopal Regmi. All his close relatives, including his brothers, elderly parents and other close cousins, who used to live with them in the camp, have left for the USA.
“The separation has been especially difficult for the children who are really depressed. They are afraid they will never see their grandparents again,” he said.
Bhutanese refugees contacted by IRIN estimated that there are around 1,500 Nepali women married to Bhutanese refugees.
According to UNHCR, such women do not qualify for the refugee resettlement programme: “Even though they have the possibility of joining their family, they are not part of the same resettlement process,” Daisy Dell, UNHCR representative in Nepal, told IRIN in Kathmandu.
“The main idea is that we solve the refugee problem. We don’t have a resettlement programme for Nepali citizens,” she said, adding that the UNHCR was very concerned about maintaining family unity.
Some Nepali women have been able to resettle and some are in the process of applying, but the procedure in their case is complicated.
“They will leave as Nepali citizens with Nepali passports and have a special visa as a member of that family unit, but they will not become refugees and will retain Nepali citizenship,” said Dell.
Such women have to go through the normal immigration visa process just like any other Nepali citizen, and there is no guarantee of success.
Only a handful have been successful in joining their husbands. People do not get letters of rejection; they are merely left in limbo, not knowing whether their application will be successful, according to the refugees.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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