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

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2002 - Bhutan

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 10 June 2002
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2002 - Bhutan , 10 June 2002, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3d04c1534.html [accessed 20 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 126,000 persons from Bhutan were living as refugees in neighboring countries at the end of 2001, including nearly 111,000 in Nepal and more than 15,000 in India.

All but a few hundred of the refugees were Lhotsampa – Bhutanese Hindus of Nepalese 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 termed "ethnic cleansing" by the Bhutanese authorities. Bhutan, an isolated Himalayan kingdom, is ruled by Buddhist Drupkas who have historically excluded the Lhotsampas from the country's political and economic mainstream.

The Citizenship Act of 1985 deprived the Lhotsampas of citizenship, prompting protests from them in the early 1990s. Claiming that the Lhotsampas were illegal immigrants, the Bhutanese authorities inflicted abuses against many Lhotsampas – including detention, torture, murder, and confiscation of property and citizenship documents – and forced many into exile.

In 1997, the Bhutanese national assembly decreed that "Nepalese nationals" could no longer be employed in southern Bhutan, and permitted Buddhists to resettle on lands that the refugees left behind.

Since 1993, Bhutan and Nepal have been at an impasse over the repatriation of the refugees. In December 2000, the two countries established a Joint Verification Team to identify potential candidates for repatriation. As of the end of 2001, however, the slowness of the joint verification process had prevented any repatriation.

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