Refugees and geopolitics: exploring US and Indian influences in the treatment of Bhutanese and Tibetan refugees in Nepal

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Sigdel, Kamal Raj
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Global Campus
This research makes an inquiry into the influence of the two powerful states, the US and India, in the treatment of the Bhutanese and the Tibetan refugees in Nepal. In particular, it provides a comparative study of the situations the refugees underwent in the course of their history, from their struggle for asylum following their first flights to the recent endeavours in finding durable solutions, taking into consideration the actual geopolitical context they lived in. The study employs the perspective offered by Goodwin-Gill, especially his concept on the role of geopolitics in refugee protection. Goodwin-Gill argues that unlike what the states often claim, the refugees have actually been subject to differential treatment guided mainly by the states’ own geo-strategic interests rather than the interests of the refugees. The study shows that the states have influenced the refugees’ treatment directly as well as through the UNHCR. Given the geopolitical reality, the host country Nepal is found to have become a passive recipient of the external influences when it comes to the treatment of the refugees and finding durable solutions. As a result, in spite of the fact that they are living in the same country, the two exiled communities were treated very differently, depending on the kind of political and geo-strategic interests they served for the influential states. While the continued presence of the Tibetan refugees near the Chinese border served the US and Indian interests to keep them as a bargaining chip to counterbalance Chinese actions in the region, the continued presence of the Bhutanese in the camps near Bhutan was perceived as a threat to regional security. This led to the Bhutanese refugees being prioritized for third-country resettlement and the Tibetans for continuing their political struggle. The study thus reveals that such differential treatment has had a concrete and far-reaching impact on the situations of the refugees.
Master’s Degree Programme in Human Rights and Democratisation in Asia-Pacific, University of Sydney.
Second semester University: Mahidol University
foreign relations, India, United States of America, geopolitics, Nepal, refugees