Bhutanese Refugees
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The Camps

In 1991, at the request of government of Nepal, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) established refugee camps to meet the growing needs of the people pouring into Nepal from Bhutan

They established seven Bhutanese refugee camps located in the south eastern lowlands of Nepal, in the districts of Jhapa and Morang.  The camp population grew from 80,000 in 1992 to 108,000 in 2007. 

In 2007, a programme to re-settle Bhutanese refugees in third countries was agreed.  Refugees from the camps started to be re-settled from 2008 and the camp populations decreased.  In 2015, just two camps remained and the refugee population stood at less than 18,000 people.  As resettlement reaches its end, it is estimated that around 10-12,000 refugees will remain in the camps.

 

 A map showing the 7 Bhutanese refugee camps in south-eastern Nepal

A map showing the 7 Bhutanese refugee camps in south-eastern Nepal

"I have spent 8 years of my life living in camp and I do not know how many more years we will spend here.  In Bhutan now our village has become a forest.  We are becoming adults but have only distant dreams of our country."  Pasang

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Life in the Camps

When first established in the early 1990s the Bhutanese refugee camps were hailed by the UNHCR as models of good practice.  From the beginning, high levels of participation from the refugee community meant that an effective infrastructure was put in place. The education system and general living conditions were seen as some of the best for refugee camps around the world.

However, as the Bhutanese refugee situation became more protracted, standards in the camps worsened.

A combination of donor fatigue, which resulted in budget cuts, and the exodus of the young and the educated, who went to seek work and opportunities outside the camps, meant that the living conditions dropped dramatically in the years leading up to the start of the resettlement process.

Tour of the camps

Bhutanese refugee youth document life in the camps

(C) THOMAS L KELLY

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The Children's Forum

Many of the images and text used on this website were created by young refugees who grew up in the Bhutanese camps and participated in the The Bhutanese Refugee Children's Forum

The Children’s Forum was the longest running and largest child-orientated project in the Bhutanese refugee camps. It was first established as a holistic, participatory child rights based programme by Save the Children in 1996.  It was run by LWF Nepal from 2000.  PhotoVoice worked in the Bhutanese camps from 1998 and funded participatory arts, writing and photography activities in The Children’s Forum since 2002.  Activities included camp exhibitions and community days, the publication of a monthly newspaper and wall bulletin, art and photography workshops, photographic vocational training course, writing and journalism workshops and the running of a photographic studio and darkroom in the camps. 

Images and writing done by members of the Bhutanese refugee Children's Forum was used to raise awareness on the Bhutanese refugee issue internationally.  Their work was exhibition all over the world and featured in local and international media.

From 1998-2008 over 3000 young people were involved in The Children's Forum.

‘I use my pictures to show Bhutanese people are kind, loyal and speak the truth. It is the only medium through which I can focus all my feelings about living a refugee life. Through this project I have come to understand the real objectives of taking photos. They can create awareness and co-operation amongst the refugee community and also with communities in other countries about our way of living and what it means to be a refugee.’ Indra

 

Meet some of the young people

 
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