Bhutanese Refugee Scam Dents Nepal’s International Stature
Dr Rishi Gupta

Nepal is in a serious political lurch after the Bhutanese refugee scammade headlines. The scam involve stop-ranking bureaucrats and leading politicians who allegedly took money from Nepalese nationals on the pretext of resettling them in the United States as Bhutanese refugees. Among the arrests made includes the former Home Minister and Defence Minister—Bal Krishna Khand—who has been arrested by the Nepal Police. Among other political personalities figuring in the scam include Arju Rana Deuba—wife of ex-Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and an elected member of the central committee of the Nepali Congress Party—who has denied the allegations.

An estimated 800 Nepali nationals have been reportedly scammed on the pretext of sending them to the US as refugees by faking their identities as Bhutanese refugees. The genesis of the Bhutanese refugees in Nepal was the policy of "One Nation, One People" deployed by the Bhutan government in 1990 to curb ethnic Nepali culture and language in the southern portion of the country. As a result, thousands of people escaped to Nepal due to their cultural and linguistic affinity with the country. With the intervention of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the refugees have been resettled in several countries including the US, Canada and Australia.

The scam has stalled the Nepalese parliament and deepened the political instability in the country. The scam comes at a time when the Maoist Centre Party-led government under the leadership of Pushpa Kamal Dahal alias Prachanda has faced confidence motions, reshuffled the cabinet several times in the last four months of his government, and struggled to appoint ministers for several ministries including Foreign Minister. Looking at the volatile power-sharing with coalition partners and now the refugee scam, Prachanda walks a tightrope of keeping all coalition partners intact in the government. Therefore, another vote of confidence will not be surprising for Prime Minister Prachanda.

Interestingly, despite being the largest party in the current coalition, Nepali Congress Party joined the Maoists as a junior partner in the Prachanda-led government. With several names allegedly involved in refugee scams, Nepali Congress Party will have to pass the litmus test in distancing itself from the scam and decide on the future of the leaders against whom allegations are made. And if Nepali Congress has to face public and political ire and withdraws from the government under pressure, Prime Minister Prachanda might lead a minority government as the present constitution does not permit a no-confidence motion up to the first two years of appointment of the Prime Minister. While Maoist Party cannot afford to pressurise the coalition partner—Nepali Congress to come clean on the scam, the Prachanda-led government will remain in question to ensure a fair and transparent investigation.

The Bhutanese refugee scam also exposes the deep-rooted menace of corruption in humanitarian causes in Nepal. The Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA)—a constitutional body for controlling corruption by investigating any abuse of authority committed through corruption by any person holding public office, had reportedly received several complaints from the victims of the scam last year when Bal Krishan Khand was the Home Minister. It was reportedly side-lined under political pressure from the home ministry. Meanwhile, the political parties are questioning the integrity of the CIAA due to its records and want an independent agency to investigate the matter. In January this year, former CIAA commissioner Raj Narayan Pathak was sentenced to jail for three years in a corruption case.

The scam will certainly dent Nepal’s international stature as a host to two major categories of refugees—the Tibetan and Bhutanese refugees. Since the late 1950s, Nepal has hosted Tibetan refugees followed by the arrival of Bhutanese refugees in 1990. Nepal receives millions of US dollars from individual countries including the US, and international agencies to run the refugee welfare programmes. While geopolitics has always derailed the refugee welfare programmes in Nepal, especially Chinese pressure on Tibetan refugees, the political instability in Nepal has impacted their resettlement. Though, the UNHCR has played a key role in keeping the momentum.

Further, Nepal might face serious embarrassment in the international community including from the United States. Since the scam was carried out by private individuals rather than the Nepalese government, it is doubtful that the Bhutanese refugee scam in Nepal will have a substantial effect on relations between Nepal and the US. However, if the role of the former home minister and other government officials is proven, Nepal’s integrity in fair practices on refugees will raise doubt. There is no clarity on whether any fraudulent resettlements have been made to the US, an investigation by the latter will put the integrity of the Nepal government in question and will affect the legitimate refugees seeking resettlement.

Therefore, amidst an ongoing investigation, the Government of Nepal must initiate a transparent investigation on the matter and exchange information with international agencies and the United States to build confidence. This openness can show a commitment to responsibility and accountability while also restoring confidence in the global community. Further, Nepal must put in place preventive measures to avert any future fraud concerning refugees.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

Image Source:

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
1 + 13 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.
Contact Us