Nepal: Bhutanese refugees head West
|Publisher||Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)|
|Publication Date||21 June 2010|
|Cite as||Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), Nepal: Bhutanese refugees head West, 21 June 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c247e3017.html [accessed 7 March 2014]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
JHAPA, 21 June 2010 (IRIN) - Pampha Sarki, 31, fled to Nepal with her family nearly two decades ago during a Bhutanese government crackdown on people of Nepalese origin.
Ironically, she is now among 80,000 who are considered Bhutanese refugees and subjected to a life of squalor, dependence and danger in seven refugee camps in Jhapa District, 500km southeast of Kathmandu.
One of Sarki's four daughters was raped and murdered by a fellow resident in the camp. Sarki's husband is paralysed from the waist down.
"I just want to get out of here. My family has suffered too much. We can't take it any more," she told IRIN in Jhapa. Sarki and her family survive on UN handouts and live without electricity.
Finally, Sarki has a glimmer of hope as she anxiously awaits a decision on her family's application for resettlement outside Asia - in North America, Europe, Australia or New Zealand.
"The resettlement has given us hope to start a new life especially for my children," she said.
People of Nepalese origin lived in Bhutan for more than a century until the 1990s, when Bhutan introduced strict citizenship laws excluding ethnic Nepalese. Tens of thousands of ethnic Nepalese - who were essentially Bhutanese - were forcibly removed, while others fled to avoid arrest.
Bilateral talks between the governments of Nepal and Bhutan have been fruitless. The last round of talks, in 2003, failed when the Bhutanese government refused to recognise the refugees as citizens.
"There is immense frustration and depression among the refugee population," said Krishna Pathak, programme coordinator of the Lutheran World Foundation, an international NGO providing humanitarian aid to Bhutanese refugees in Nepal. "They have crossed their limits of endurance being confined within the camps."
Rush for applications
Tens of thousands of Bhutanese refugees scurried for applications for the resettlement programme rolled out in 2007 by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and International Organization for Migration (IOM).
As of June this year, 31,836 refugees had been resettled: 27,727 in the USA, with others heading to Australia, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Norway. Another 56,201 refugees have signed up for resettlement, many of whom will be resettled in the UK this year, according to UNHCR.
"Now we have a good opportunity, especially for our children, who can live with dignity and have a certain future unlike our old generation," said 42-year-old refugee Ekraj Chettri, who has two teenage sons and has applied for resettlement in the USA.
"It is mostly the young refugees who are really excited about resettling in the West, which they see as a way to escape from their hardship living in the camps," said Prashikshya Karki, programme coordinator of Caritas Nepal, an NGO that supports refugees through educational programmes and vocational training.
But not everyone wants to leave their homeland behind. More than 8,000 refugees have signed a petition, as part of a campaign led by the Senior Citizens Group, to be repatriated.
"We will continue to fight for repatriation until we die," said Harka Subba, leader of the group.