Tilak Rai is a Bhutanese refugee who was forced to flee his home country in 1992 due to ethnic discrimination. He currently resides in one of the refugee camps in eastern Nepal and has been actively involved in advocating for the rights and repatriation of Bhutanese refugees. Apart from his involvement in refugee advocacy as the Acting Chairperson of the Bhutanese Refugee Representative Repatriation Committee (BRRRC), Tilak Rai has also been active in community organizing and education. He served as a volunteer administrator for the Community Management Committee (CMC) in Beldangi from 2014 to 2017, helping to provide basic services and support to the refugee community. He has also been involved in the mission of repatriation since 1993, working to ensure that Bhutanese refugees are able to return to their homeland with dignity and security.
Author of Siudiko Phul, a collection of Nepali poems, he is also the founder and current president of The Literary Society of Bhutan (LSB), which aims to promote Bhutanese literature and culture. Arjun Pradhan spoke to him to take his views on the infamous fake Bhutanese refugee scam.
How do you see the current scam and people paying millions to migrate to the US as fake Bhutanese refugees?
I don’t know why these people agreed to become fake Bhutanese refugees in the first place. Maybe they don’t know much about the plight of the Bhutanese refugees. We became refugees after the government of Bhutan forcefully evicted us from our homeland. The Government of Bhutan did not consider us as Bhutanese. We fled the country in 1990. The Royal Government of Bhutan (RGoB) published a report claiming that Bhutanese living in eastern Nepal under protection of UNHCR in refugee camps are all non-Bhutanese. We were made stateless by the government of our own state.
This fake Bhutanese refugee scam seems to be a part of grand design to prove the claim of RGoB and subdue the genuine Bhutanese issue of repatriation. It casts shadows on our real issues and creates a situation of statelessness forever. This scandal has tarnished the reputation of genuine refugees who have been settled in different countries of the world and those who are in camps in Nepal and who want to return to their homeland.
Then what could be the main reason behind individuals pretending to be Bhutanese refugees? How does this affect the credibility and authenticity of the refugee community?
Money may be only one of the factors. This scam has a deep political motive to project the genuine Bhutanese refugees as illegal ones. The scam and those involved in it are spoiling our ultimate goal of repatriation with dignity and honor.
How do you and your organization identify and distinguish genuine Bhutanese refugees from those who are attempting to deceive the authorities?
You just have to look into the records. You can scan the data recorded at Kakarvitta when the Bhutanese refugees entered Nepal initially and who were registered in seven camps of eastern Nepal. Those data are available at the offices of UNHCR and Nepal government.
What measures are being taken by your organization or other relevant stakeholders to combat the fake Bhutanese refugee scam?
We don’t have a strong mechanism to do anything substantial about it but we appeal to the Nepal government for fair and independent investigation into the case. We are ever ready to support and help the Nepal government in investigation.
How does fake Bhutanese refugee scam impact the resources, assistance, and support that should be provided to genuine refugees?
I would say this should not have any impact on the support provided to genuine Bhutanese refugees living in the refugee camps. The scam should not be an excuse for reduction of assistance and support to the real Bhutanese refugees.
‘Thousands of refugees have been resettled in several Western countries. They might see the entire Bhutanese refugee population as people earning dollars illegally.’
Have there been any instances where fake refugees have caused harm to the lives of genuine refugees?
Genuine Bhutanese are forced to live without registration and refugee ID cards because of the fake Bhutanese refugees. We can address this problem by using the tools, punish the fake ones and register the genuine Bhutanese as refugees through fair and independent investigation and verification.
In your view, how does the fake Bhutanese refugee scam affect the perceptions of the host countries or communities towards the entire refugee population?
Thousands of refugees have been resettled in several Western countries. They might see the entire Bhutanese refugee population as people earning dollars illegally. Host countries never took our issues seriously before and I don’t think they will take them seriously in future. Fake Bhutanese scandal poses challenges to our social and political lives and our struggle for identity and political rights.
Are there any legal or policy changes that you believe could help address the issue of fake Bhutanese refugees more effectively?
I don’t see any shortcomings in terms of law. I think the existing law of Nepal is enough to address the fake Bhutanese refugees issue. If the law is implemented fairly and independently without any political pressure, I believe the guilty can be brought to book.
The Nepal government should punish the criminals through fair and independent investigation and judicial procedure without any political influence. Our organization is always ready to help and support the Nepal government to investigate the fake Bhutanese refugees scandal. The registered refugees living in the refugee camps are genuine ones. On behalf of Bhutanese refugees, I request the Nepal government to bring under judicial proceedings those who are involved in the scandal. Only this will ensure protection and wellbeing of genuine refugees.