Last Updated: Monday, 19 February 2018, 14:34 GMT

World Refugee Survey 2008 - Nepal

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 19 June 2008
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, World Refugee Survey 2008 - Nepal, 19 June 2008, available at: [accessed 20 February 2018]
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.

NPL figures


Nepal hosted 130,000 refugees, including nearly 110,000 from Bhutan and more than 20,000 Tibetans from China. The Nepali-speaking Lhotsampas from Bhutan fled ethnic cleansing in 1991 and 1992. Tibetans arrived in 1959 and the early 1960s.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) also assisted about 300 refugees and asylum seekers of various nationalities that it recognized under its mandate in Kathmandu.

Refoulement/Physical Protection

Nepal reportedly handed one Tibetan over to Chinese officials in July, after fining and jailing him under suspicion of theft. The Government blamed the deportation on policy confusion and internal miscommunication. Nepal also deported four asylum seekers to their most recent countries of transit, after arresting them for illegal entry or lack of documentation.

In February, Bhutanese refugees in Sanischare camp and members of the local community clashed in a dispute over firewood. One refugee died, eight were injured, and several huts in the camp burned. After the United States announced plans to resettle 60,000 Bhutanese refugees over five years, there were clashes between pro- and anti-resettlement factions in the camps. In late May, clashes escalated to a riot outside Beldangi II camp, during which Nepalese police shot and killed two refugees. In December, unknown assailants shot and wounded a refugee. In August, a group of women refugees beat a camp secretary in a conflict over who would attend a meeting in Thailand about resettlement. Later that month, nearly 100 refugees fled the camp after refugee youths allegedly assaulted pro-resettlement refugees. After the May census, the Government began reinstating a permanent police presence in the camps for Bhutanese refugees.

Since 1990, Nepal had not allowed Tibetan entrants to seek asylum, allowing them only to travel on to India or other countries. Refugees alleged that Nepal allowed Chinese incursions into the country to pursue Tibetans and that Nepali Maoists robbed them as they transited the country.

Nepal was not party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and had no refugee law. However, in September, the Supreme Court, in a decision that forbade the deportation of four Pakistanis whom UNHCR recognized as refugees, urged the Government to pass one. Nepal's 1992 Immigration Act did allow the Government to exempt "any class, group, nationality or race from any or all of [its] provisions" and the 1988 Extradition Act prohibited extradition for "political crimes." The 1958 Foreigners Act and administrative directives determined refugees' legal rights.

Nepal maintained a refugee status determination process for Bhutanese asylum seekers only, although it had suspended it in 2006, when it launched a census of Bhutanese refugees. It applied international standards in these determinations, allowing UNHCR an observer role in first instance cases and a full vote in appeals cases.

UNHCR recognized non-Tibetan, non-Bhutanese refugees under its mandate in Kathmandu until March, when Nepal requested that it stop. It had registered 45 asylum seekers before March and granted mandate refugee status to 14. Although UNHCR-recognized refugees and asylum seekers were technically in violation of immigration laws, the Government generally did not prosecute them, with the exception of four Pakistanis, described below.

Detention/Access to Courts

In March, Nepal arrested four Pakistanis, whom UNHCR had recognized as refugees, for overstaying their visas. In April, a court sentenced them to 10 years in prison under Nepal's Immigration Act. Under the Act, authorities could imprison violators who could not pay their fines, sentencing them to one day in prison for every 25 rupees ($0.40) unpaid. UNHCR hired an attorney for the refugees. The Supreme Court ordered their sentences reduced as the Government had used the wrong section of the law in calculating them, but did not order their release. One of the four refugees paid his fine and left for resettlement. The others remained in detention.

The law allowed the police to hold suspects for 25 days without a court appearance, but security forces occasionally held prisoners longer and refugees had difficulty obtaining bail. UNHCR generally had access to detainees. Detainees could have lawyers and challenge their detention in the courts.

In December, UNHCR and the Government issued 8,200 identity cards to Bhutanese refugees for the first time. The Government also supplied most adult Tibetan refugees with identity cards, but not to some 5,000 refugees who turned 18 after 1989. Until March, UNHCR gave refugees and asylum seekers in urban areas individual certificates with photographs that defined their status. UNHCR maintained a list of those who had approached its office after the Government made it stop doing so and authorities took no action against them.

The 1990 Constitution provided that "No person shall be denied the equal protection of the laws," that "No person shall be deprived of his personal liberty save in accordance with law," and extended most criminal procedure protections to all persons, with some exceptions for citizens of enemy states. It reserved for citizens, however, its specific protections against discrimination in the application of laws or other functions of the state on grounds of religion, race, sex, caste, or tribe. Generally, refugees had access to courts, including for civil matters, but only citizens had standing to challenge the constitutionality of a law before the Supreme Court.

Freedom of Movement and Residence

Nepal restricted Bhutanese refugees to seven camps in the Jhapa and Morang districts in the east. Camp rules required Bhutanese refugees to obtain prior permission and passes if leaving the camp for more than 24 hours and generally to return within a week. Refugees could, however, obtain renewable six month passes for educational purposes. Authorities generally granted requests for passes but temporarily suspended ration cards if refugees were absent without permission for an extended period.

Tibetans who arrived before 1990 and refugees in urban areas enjoyed freedom of movement. They could live where they wished if they had refugee cards. Tibetan refugees stayed at the Tibetan Refugee Transit Center in Swayambhu before continuing to India.

The 1990 Constitution reserved its protection of freedom of movement and residence to citizens. The 1958 Foreigners Act authorized the Government to compel foreigners to live in places it prescribed and mandated two years' imprisonment for violations.

To obtain documents for international travel, Bhutanese refugees had to apply to camp officials, supplying an invitation letter and bank balance. Minors and women under 35 also needed a letter of consent. Camp officials passed those they recommended to the Refugee Coordination Unit in Jhapa, which recommended them to the National Unit for Coordination of Refugee Affairs in the Ministry of Home Affairs. Home Affairs recommended the refugee to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which issued the necessary documents.

Right to Earn a Livelihood

Camp rules restricted Bhutanese refugees from engaging in almost any income-generating activity aside from small cottage industries, such as making sanitary napkins, chalk, blankets, and jute roofing materials. Authorities tolerated some illegal work where there were shortages, such as teaching in remote schools. District authorities shut down some activities the central government permitted, such as soap making, when they competed with locals.

The Government generally allowed Tibetans who entered the country prior to 1990 to run small handicrafts in the informal sector, such as carpet weaving. Some refugees in urban areas formed informal partnerships with locals, paid bribes, or obtained Nepali citizenship through false documents so they could hold title to property.

The 1992 Labor Act heavily restricted the employment of foreigners, without exception for refugees. If no Nepali was available for a skilled post after national advertising, managers could apply to the Labor Department for permission to hire foreigners. After investigation, the Labor Department could grant two year permits but for no more than five years in total. Managers had to arrange to replace the foreigners by training Nepalis and, according to the 1993 Labor Rules, lay off foreigners first in case of retrenchment. Penalties could be as high as 10,000 rupees (about $159) per instance and 100 rupees (about $1.59) per day.

Nepal's labor legislation or social security did not protect refugees and they often had to pay bribes or use false documents. Refugees could not legally operate businesses, own property, open bank accounts, or obtain drivers' licenses.

The 1990 Constitution reserved its protection of the right to engage in work, professions, trade, or industry, or to form unions, to citizens. It also reserved the rights to acquire, own, sell, and otherwise dispose of property to citizens. But it also provided that "The State shall not, except in the public interest, requisition, acquire or create any encumbrance on, the property of any person."

Public Relief and Education

In January, poor insulation in the bamboo huts of three camps in Jhapa district caused some 30 refugees per day, mostly children, to report to the hospital with pneumonia and asthma. In December 2005, UNHCR had switched the refugees' cooking fuel from kerosene to less-expensive briquettes made from compressed coal dust. These produced more smoke, leading to eye, skin, and respiratory complaints. Inadequate fuel rations also compelled refugees to look for firewood outside the camps which led to conflict with locals, such as the clash in February that killed one refugee.

In the camps, the World Food Programme (WFP) gave basic rations, while UNHCR and its implementing partners provided housing materials, water, supplemental food, sanitation, and health services. In 2006, WFP announced that it would cut rations because donors had not funded it for the next two years. Donors restored some funding in February. UNHCR's implementing partners, such as Lutheran World Federation, aided host communities as well. UNHCR supported health services for refugees and asylum seekers in urban areas, although not for all referrals and all treatments. Refugees generally had access to health services on par with nationals, but some hospitals charged all foreigners double. Outside the UNHCR partner hospital, refugees had to pay for treatment.

Within the camps, UNHCR provided education to grade 8. Caritas and others provided education to grade 10 and partial support for grades 11 and 12. UNHCR provided assistance to allow families in its urban caseload to attend Nepali schools. Tibetan refugees, with help from Tibetans abroad, had their own educational and medical systems.

Nepal cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies helping refugees and asylum seekers and earmarked a contribution to the WFP for camp refugees. The Government did not, however, include refugees in its 2003 Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper or its 2007 Progress Report for international donors.

USCRI Reports

  • USCR Condemns China's Execution of Uyghur Refugee Whom Nepal Had Forcibly Returned (Press Releases)
  • USCR Calls on Bhutan and International Community to Uphold Bhutanese Refugees' Right to Return and to Ensure Durable Solutions for all Bhutanese Refugees (Press Releases)
  • USCR Condemns China and Nepal's Forcible Return of Tibetans, Calls China Among Top Violators of Refugee Rights (Press Releases)

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