Last Updated: Friday, 20 October 2017, 11:43 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2000 - Bhutan

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 June 2000
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2000 - Bhutan , 1 June 2000, available at: [accessed 21 October 2017]
DisclaimerThis 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.


An estimated 125,000 persons from Bhutan were living as refugees in neighboring countries in 1999, including 110,000 in Nepal and more than 15,000 in India.

All but a few hundred of the refugees from Bhutan are Lhotsampa, Bhutanese Hindus of Nepali origin who lived in the southern plains of Bhutan. Most fled to Nepal and India between late 1990 and 1992 to escape what refugee leaders called an "ethnic cleansing" campaign by the Bhutanese authorities. Bhutan, an isolated Himalayan kingdom, is ruled by Buddhist Drupkas who mostly live in the country's mountainous north. The Drupka historically excluded the Lhotsampa from the country's political and economic mainstream, claiming that most were illegal immigrants to Bhutan. In 1998, the Bhutanese authorities began resettling Buddhist settlers on the land that the refugees in Nepal and India left behind.

Since 1993, there has been a stalemate between Bhutan and Nepal over the refugees' future. The two governments have held numerous talks, including in September 1999, but with no concrete results.

During the year, Bhutanese refugees living in Nepal again asserted their desire to repatriate by trying to re-enter Bhutan. In January, the Indian authorities prevented some 260 Bhutanese from crossing the India-Bhutan border. Several dozen other Bhutanese evaded the Indian authorities and entered the Bhutanese town of Phuentsoling, where they held an anti-government demonstration. The Bhutanese authorities broke up the protest and deported the 50 protesters. Similar protests in June ended when the Bhutanese authorities arrested another 80 refugees.

In December, Bhutan released ethnic Nepalese leader Tek Nath Rizal from prison. Rizal, a former advisor to the king, fled Bhutan in 1989 after criticizing the king's decision to strip thousands of ethnic Nepalese of their Bhutanese citizenship. Rizal sought refuge in Nepal, but the Nepalese authorities arrested and extradited him to Bhutan, where he was charged with "anti-national crimes" and sentenced to life in prison.

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