Background of Bhutanese Refugees
The Bhutanese refugee crisis has its roots in the history of migration to Bhutan, the resulting ethnically diverse make-up of the country’s population, and the harsh policies of Bhutan’s absolute monarchy towards its ethnic Nepali minority.1 The politically and culturally dominant Ngalongs, who live mainly in the central and western regions of Bhutan, are of Tibetan descent; their ancestors arrived in Bhutan in the eighth and ninth centuries. The Ngalongs speak Dzongkha and follow the Drukpa Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism, which is Bhutan’s state religion. Bhutan’s king, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, is a Ngalong. The Sharchhops, who live in eastern Bhutan, are descendants of the earliest migrants to arrive in Bhutan; they are of Indo-Burmese origin, speak Tshangla (which is closely related to Dzongkha) and follow the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism. Together the Ngalongs and Sharchhops are known as Drukpas. The third major group, who differ greatly from the Drukpas in terms of culture, language, and religion, are ethnic Nepalis in southern Bhutan; they speak Nepali and are predominantly Hindu.
Ethnic Nepalis first began migrating to Bhutan in the nineteenth century. Many became eligible for Bhutanese citizenship under the 1958 Nationality Law. Moreover, from the mid-1950s ethnic Nepalis began to be admitted into the bureaucracy, the army and the police, and were made members of the cabinet and the judiciary. However, by the late 1970s the Drukpa establishment had come to see the ethnic Nepalis’ growing numbers and influence as a threat to Bhutan’s cultural identity and the Drukpas’ own privileged position. Increasingly, Bhutan’s ruling elite asserted that the majority of the ethnic Nepalis in Bhutan were not in fact citizens but illegal immigrants who threatened Bhutan’s “survival as a distinct political and cultural entity.”
The government invoked these perceived threats as justification for a series of discriminatory measures aimed at the political, economic, and cultural exclusion of Bhutan’s ethnic Nepalis. Two new Citizenship Acts were passed in quick succession, in 1977 and 1985, each tightening the requirements for Bhutanese citizenship.7The 1977 Citizenship Act increased the residency requirement for citizenship by 10 years: from five to 15 years for government servants and from 10 to 20 years for all other foreigners. The growing concerns about the threat posed by ethnic Nepalis to Bhutan’s cultural identity were reflected in an additional requirement for applicants for Bhutanese citizenship to have “some knowledge” of the Dzongkha language and Bhutanese history. The 1977 Act also provided that citizenship would not be granted to anyone who was related to any person involved in activities against the people, the country, and the King. Bhutan’s first national census from 1979 to 1981 used the criteria set out in the 1977 Act to identify residents as citizens or not. Following the census, only those identified as citizens according to the 1977 Act were issued citizenship identity cards.
The 1985 Citizenship Act tightened the requirements for Bhutanese citizenship still further. Under the 1985 Act, a child only automatically qualifies for citizenship if both parents are Bhutanese. The 1985 Act raised the bar higher for naturalization. The 1985 Act also provided for citizenship by registration if one had been permanently domiciled in Bhutan on or before December 31, 1958, and one’s name had been registered in the Ministry of Home Affairs census register.
The 1985 Citizenship Act was followed by a new census in 1988. This census amounted to a selective, arbitrary, and retroactive implementation of the 1985 Act. First, the government only conducted the census in southern Bhutan. Second, the authorities excluded ethnic Nepalis from becoming naturalized citizens, as provided for under the 1985 Act; instead, the authorities restricted Bhutanese citizenship to ethnic Nepalis who had records, such as tax receipts, to prove residence in Bhutan in 1958—30 years before the census. Bhutanese officials refused to accept residency records from 1957 or earlier, or from the years 1957 and 1959 (indicating residency in 1958) to establish citizenship. They disregarded the citizenship identity cards issued after the previous census: the authorities classified people who could not prove residence in 1958 as non-nationals, “returned migrants”, or other illegal immigrant categories, even if they possessed a citizenship card.
The census caused considerable anxiety among the ethnic Nepali population in southern Bhutan. A series of “Bhutanization” measures in line with Bhutan’s “one nation, one people” policy exacerbated this state of fear and resentment by trying to impose a distinct national identity. On January 16, 1989, the king issued a decree requiring all citizens to observe the traditional Drukpa code of values, dress, and etiquette called driglam namzha. Then in February 1989 the government removed the Nepali language from the curriculum in all schools in southern Bhutan.
Ethnic Nepalis perceived these policies as a direct attack on their cultural identity. This led to growing unrest in southern Bhutan, culminating in mass demonstrations in September and October 1990. The government response was swift. The authorities classified all participants in the demonstrations as ngolops (“anti-nationals”), and arrested and detained thousands of people accused of taking part in the demonstrations. Many were subjected to ill-treatment and torture; a number of people reportedly died in detention. The security forces staged frequent raids on the homes of ethnic Nepalis, and there were numerous accounts of women and girls being raped in the course of these raids. Following the demonstrations, the government closed all schools in southern Bhutan and suspended health services.
By the end of 1990 the Bhutanese authorities coerced the first ethnic Nepalis to leave Bhutan. They released some ethnic Nepalis from prison on condition that they would leave the country, while giving others who were categorized as non-nationals under the 1988 census the “choice” to leave the country or face imprisonment. Some fled to avoid falling victim to arbitrary arrest and detention. The security forces harassed many ethnic Nepalis, in some cases destroying their homes. The authorities forced the majority of those who became refugees into exile by intimidating them into signing so-called “voluntary migration forms.”A young man’s testimony was typical of the accounts refugees gave to Human Rights Watch of the circumstances of their departure from Bhutan:
The army took all the people from their houses. The army came to my house many times. My father left the house and went to India. My brother and two sisters worked in the government service. The army sent us the form issued by the government [voluntary migration form]. They said that we had to go out. They said if you go now you will get some money. Some people got a little money. On the way [as we left Bhutan] there were many police. We were forced to sign the document. They snapped our photos. The man told me to smile, to show my teeth. He wanted to show that I was leaving my country willingly, happily, that I was not forced to leave. Only one member of my family signed. My mother gave her thumbprint.
Some of the ethnic Nepalis who fled or were expelled from Bhutan settled in India, but most refugees ended up in Nepal. UNHCR has provided assistance to the Bhutanese refugees in Nepal since 1992.There are currently more than 106,000 Bhutanese refugees living in seven refugee camps in Nepal.
Since 1990, over 106,000 Bhutanese refugees are living in the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) managed seven refugee camps in eastern Nepal. Bhutanese refugee
population as per the latest report on world's refugee population included in the UNHCR STATISTICAL YEAR BOOK 2002 - Trends in Displacement, Protection and Solutions are as follows: (Pages: 399 and 227) The UNHCR Statistical Year Book 2002 was released in July 2004. The UNHCR Statistical Year Book 2003 (provisional report) can be found at UNHCR website
Year and Population of Refugee
1993 : 85,334.................1994 : 103,265
1995 : 104,740................1996 : 106,801
1997 : 108,674................1998 : 105,651
1999 : 107,571................2000 : 108,897
2001 : 110,780................2002 : 112,263
In the year 2002, there were 112,263 Bhutanese refugees registered with the UNHCR (as per the above report). Approximately, 25,000 Bhutanese refugees were living outside of the UNHCR managed refugee camps in Nepal and India. Thus, there were a total of approximately 137,263 Bhutanese refugees living in the UNHCR managed camps in Nepal and outside of the refugees camps in Nepal and India in 2002.
Main location in Nepal
Refugees have high birth rate
The birth rate among the Bhutanese refugee population has been found to be double than that of the local people. About 80,000 Bhutanese including children have taken refuge in Nepal since 10 years ago. There are 101,283 Bhutanese refugees at Beldangi, Goldhap, Timai and Khudunabari of Jhapa district and Sanischare (Pathari) of Morang district. A report made public by head of the United Nations High Commission for Refugee (UNHCR) in Jhapa John Andrew states that 21 per cent of the total refugee population has been born in the camps. Among the total refugee population 44, 783 are women, 46,022 men and 10,487 children below the age of five. The Bhutanese seldom use family planning methods as they wish to get maximum relief and facilities.
Various reports on the violation of human rights in Bhutan and Bhutanese refugees have been published. Please Click on BHUTANESE REFUGEES to read them. This website provides complete and authentic information on the origin, causes, and current situation about Bhutanese refugees.