Refugee Reluctance to Resettle: A Social Movement Approach for Bhutanese Refugees in Nepal
Over 100,000 Bhutanese refugees reside in refugee camps in Nepal, where, over the past 17 years, their livelihoods and safety are often in jeopardy. In the absence of other durable solutions, one might have expected that UNHCR’s plan to resettle more than half of the Bhutanese refugees would have been welcomed enthusiastically by refugee community leaders. But initial reactions were lukewarm at best. Given the international community’s assumption that the pursuit of durable solutions is paramount in protecting refugees, how do we explain situations in which refugees eschew durable solutions? In Bhutan, refugee leaders, whose eventual goal is repatriation, fear that resettlement will reframe the refugee issue as a protection concern, rather than, as they would prefer, an issue of “belonging” in Bhutan. Further, resettlement, they believe, represents a dilution of the power of their message to the international community. While the language of social movements is rarely applied to refugee groups, it effectively explains the reasons for which Bhutanese refugees prioritize other needs over protection and livelihoods and hence reject resettlement as the best durable solution. This suggests that the search for durable solutions on the level of policymaking requires a participatory approach with refugee communities themselves.
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