Give Justice To Bhutanese Refugees

For sixteen years the Bhutanese have been forced to leave their country and have been living in Nepal. But no international organizations, NGOs, nor the Bhutanese government have established any effective, concrete program to protect their rights. The seminars, talks, programs, meetings, articles and interviews have done nothing to help the Bhutanese with their problems or defend their fundamental rights to return their country.

Even last year US Ambassador James F Morairty said, “The international community is making efforts at solving the Bhutanese refugee problem.” Four players have crucial roles in deciding the future of over 100,000 Bhutanese: the UNHCR, the Nepali government, the Bhutanese government, and India as the largest neighbor of the two countries. Unless these four parties come together to ensure a decent future for the refugees, they will have nowhere to turn.

Nepal wants all Bhutanese refugees to go back to their homes but Bhutan has been avoiding constituting verification mechanisms. Little attention has been given to the plight of the Bhutanese refugees for over a decade.

More than 125,000 Nepali-speaking Lhotshampas of Southern Bhutan, nearly a sixth of the kingdom’s total population of approximately 782,548, have been forced to leave or forcibly evicted from the country by the Government. This has made Bhutan as one of the highest per capita refugee generators in the world. As on March 2001, approximately 98,886 Bhutanese refugees are living in seven refugee camps in eastern Nepal managed by the UNHCR. The rest live scattered in other parts of Nepal. About 25,000 Bhutanese refugees are living in Indian territories without any help. The roots of the current political crisis in Bhutan and the refugees lie in Bhutan’s geopolitics and population politics. (Source:

Even in Katmandu, the UNHCR representative in Nepal, Abraham Abraham, said, “We urge the two governments in the bilateral process to make arrangements for the repatriation of the refugees to Bhutan while also allowing third-country resettlement, so that a solution can be implemented for all refugees allowing the closure of camps instead of keeping helpless refugees in camps forever.”

According to the Chief Editor of apfanews, Ip Adhikari, the Bhutanese group has strongly opposed the UNHCR proposal intended to take the independent young population to a few western countries. The issue has split the refugee leadership further. The majority of the leaders who have not left their involvement in the movement, oppose the idea and say this was an utter violation of their right to return. So, what is the cause and unseen force that is taking refugees in two directions? The question is unanswerable. He further argued, “In late 80s, the Bhutan government has said there were over 100,000 illegal immigrants in the country. Of the people evicted in early 90, Bhutan king had admitted 33 percent to be real Bhutanese.”

The verification by Bhutan and Nepal in Khudunabari camp had revealed that 75 percent of the refugees have valid documents of Bhutanese citizenship. So, obviously, the Bhutanese government concluded that the illegal immigrants that it had been saying since 80s are not flushed out. The second round of eviction campaigns will force these – at least 50,000 southern Bhutanese – to leave the country”.

Many Bhutanese refugees are deprived of education. The reality is that the United Nations and individual countries do very little because no one cares about people with no power or influence. It is true that more pressure is needed to address this problem. The problem of the Bhutanese refugees means they are just the symptom of a larger problem.

This problem is the poverty they are facing and they are always the ones who suffer most.

I believe that many countries’ trade policies ruin the lives of poor people and force them to leave their countries. Nepal is passing through a difficult phase because of the Maoist insurgency. And added to this are the 100,000 Bhutanese refugees.

We must support the Bhutanese refugee problem seriously. All those in need should get help and no one should be left out.

The solutions are the same everywhere for refugees: Bhutanese refugees should have the right to return to their land.

Nepali journalist and Story Writer Kamala Sarup is an editor for She specialises in in-depth reporting and writing on Peace, Anti War, Women, Terrorism, Democracy, and Development.