Bhutanese Refugees in the US: Pawns of Imperial Interests
Posted by redpines on November 13, 2011
While in Nepal, I heard a lot of discussion about the situation of Bhutanese refugees who had been resettled in the US. People were outraged at the fact that the US would only accept these refugees on the condition that they repay their airfare and other costs. In an economy where real unemployment is more than 20% in some places, it is not clear how this resettlement plan is different from a state of indentured servitude. It is a grotesque example of the way the US immerses the world’s people in debt and subjugation–even within its borders.
There may be sinister political reasons for the US deal to accept Bhutanese refugees. This embassy cable from 2007, exposed by Wikileaks, shows the US government’s concern over Maoist organizing in the Bhutanese refugee camps, as well as the potential for communists to gain power in Bhutan itself:
“…each confirmed that the Maoists could pose a significant threat. Rutland alleged that the BCP openly threatened to use the refugees in the Nepali camps to overthrow the monarchy and the new government.”
Revolution in South Asia also reported in 2008 that two Maoist groups did emerge within the refugee camps. Whether or not there is a direct connection between the resettlement scheme and the potential for strong communist organizations in Bhutan, it seems impossible to believe that the US is involved in this situation for altruistic reasons. The following piece from Lancaster Online gives a brief introduction to the refugees’ plight.
A Primer on the Plight of Bhutanese refugees
Oct 30, 2011
by Jeff Hawkes
Why are there refugees from Bhutan?
More than 100 years ago, Bhutan invited citizens of Nepal to settle in the southern part of the country and clear jungles. Over the decades the Nepali migrants, mostly Hindu, prospered, and their rapidly growing numbers and influence in the small Buddhist-majority country alarmed the government.
In 1989, Bhutan reclassified the descendants of the Nepali settlers as “illegal immigrants.” The government required ethnic Nepalese to wear the Bhutanese national dress and banned the Nepali language in schools.
Mass demonstrations by ethnic Nepalese prompted a government crackdown, leading to nighttime raids of homes and imprisonment. Reports of torture, rape and murder in 1991 set off a mass exodus to Nepal from southern Bhutan.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees set up camps after Nepal, a small country almost as poor as Haiti, refused to integrate the refugees into their society. By 1996, more than 100,000 were living in seven camps in eastern Nepal.
Why are so many Bhutanese refugees now coming to the United States?
Multiple rounds of talks between Bhutan and Nepal on repatriating the refugees in Bhutan failed, resulting in a deadlock that threatened a humanitarian crisis in the camps.
Five years ago, the Bush administration announced the United States would take 60,000 of the refugees. Following the United States’ lead, seven other countries agreed to take up to 5,000 each.
In March 2008, Bhutanese started arriving in the United States, and they now number more than 41,000. Texas, New York, Georgia and Pennsylvania are the top four states where Bhutanese have settled. In December 2010, the State Department said the United States would consider resettling as many as express an interest.
UNHCR estimates only 10,000 refugees will remain in the camps by mid-2015.
What financial assistance do the Bhutanese receive?
The government spends an average of $4,200 in direct costs to resettle each refugee.
About $1,100 goes to the International Organization for Migration for each refugee it processes in Nepal.
The average cost of flying a refugee to the United States is $1,300, which the refugees are expected to pay back within three years.
Upon arrival, each refugee receives $900 to cover rent, furniture and other needs. Resettlement contractors — locally they are Church World Service and Lutheran Immigration & Refugee Service — receive $700 for each refugee it assists. Another $200 goes into an emergency fund. Contractors also receive funding to help refugees find work.
In addition to those costs, refugees are eligible for cash assistance and Medical Assistance during their first eight months in the U.S. They also are eligible for food stamps.
The federal government reimburses states for screenings at health clinics. Refugees are examined for diseases and conditions that may be a public health concern or a barrier to self-sufficiency.
In addition, schools educating a large number of refugee children are eligible for extra state funding.