Last Updated: Friday, 29 July 2016, 06:59 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2003 - Bhutan

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 June 2003
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2003 - Bhutan , 1 June 2003, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3eddc493e.html [accessed 29 July 2016]
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 127,000 persons from Bhutan were living as refugees in neighboring countries at the end of 2002, including nearly 112,000 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 1990 and 1992 to escape ethnically based harassment and expulsion by the Bhutanese authorities. Bhutan, an isolated Himalayan kingdom, is ruled by ethnic Drupkas, who are Buddhist and who have historically excluded the Lhotsampas from the country's political and economic mainstream.

The Citizenship Act of 1985 deprived the Lhotsampas of citizenship. Claiming that the Lhotsampas were illegal immigrants, the Bhutanese authorities murdered, tortured, detained, and confiscated the property and citizenship documents of many Lhotsampas, and forced many others into exile.

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

Since 1993, Bhutan and Nepal have been at an impasse over the repatriation of the refugees. In 2001, the two countries began jointly "verifying" potential candidates for repatriation. As of the end of 2002, however, continued disagreements over the verification process – along with the Bhutanese government's continued settlement of northern Bhutanese on the Lhotsampas' ancestral lands – had prevented any repatriation.

In October, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, which administers the camps for Bhutanese refugees in Nepal, began investigating reports of sexual abuse of women and children in the camps. The investigation reportedly revealed 18 cases of sexual abuse and exploitation, including that of a 7-year-old girl. In a joint statement, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said the allegations "show the human cost of one of the world's unresolved and forgotten refugee problems."

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