Introducing the camps

The Bhutanese refugees first entered Nepal at the end of 1990. Temporary camps were established on the banks on the Mai river. Disease and squalor were rife.

UNHCR began providing ad-hoc assistance to Bhutanese asylum seekers in February 1991. By September 1991, there were approximately 5,000 refugees when His Majesty’s Government of Nepal (HMG-N) formally requested UNHCR to co-ordinate all emergency assistance for the Bhutanese refugees. UNHCR, the World Food Program (WFP) and several Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) launched a major program in the early part of 1992.

WFP, UNHCR and partners provide food, water, shelter, health, education, protection and other ‘non-food’ items. The established health and nutrition indicators suggest that the assistance has been adequate and, in fact, exceeds the national standards for Nepali citizens.

The seven Bhutanese refugee camps are located throughout the Jhapa region of the east Nepali terai (sub tropical lowlands), adjoining the foothills of the Himalayas.

The climate is hot and humid, with heavy rains in June and July. In spring, the mountain melt water means that flooding is common.

The structural layout in each camp is very dense, with shelters often under one metre apart. Fires occur frequently and can be very destructive.

There is little violence within the refugee population, and community committees undertake much of the everyday management of the camps.

Refugees and the local population compete for some environmental resources, such as the collection of dead wood for fuel and the supply of bamboo for construction.

Relations are relatively good, however, with some locals taking part in camp management.

The sites are all located on government forestry department land. Many large saal trees were cut down to provide space for the building of huts.

Flood protection was required on some sites, but the engineering works undertaken have not proved wholly successful.

Construction materials and perishable foodstuffs are sourced regionally, but without sustainable strategies. Locals have complained that wells near some camps have run dry, as a result of over-extraction and ‘draw down’ near refugee wells.

The camps and their populations

CAMP                              POPUlation         No OF Families        No of HUts       PEople per hut

Beldangi-1                     18,335                     2524                      2843                   6.45

Beldangi-2                    22,542                    3358                      3604                   6.25

Beldangi-2 extension  11,594                     1672                       1827                    6.35

Goldhap                         9,513                      1348                        1511                     6.30

Khudunabari                  13,392                    1960                       1960                   6.83

Sanischare                    20,993                    2790                      3212                   6.54

Timai                              10,293                    1382                       1716                    6.40

TOTAL                              106,662                  15,034                   16,673                   6.40

Camp population figures in 2006

Orgs working in the camps

UNHCR is responsible for the overall co-ordination of the camps. They subcontract to a number of agencies and organisations listed below to provide food and essential services in the camps.

UNHCR United Nations High Commission for Refugees
Currently, the overall responsibility for the maintenance of camps lies with UNHCR.

WFP World Food Programme, a United Nations agency. Provides food aid.

LWF Lutheran World Federation
LWF Nepal was the first organisation extending humanitarian assistance to the Bhutanese refugees. Initially, LWF Nepal established systems for all key needs and later handed over some services like health, distribution of food and non-food items and logistics when UNHCR and other NGOs arrived on the scene in response to the continuing arrival of new refugees.

LWF, as an implementing partner of UNHCR, has been responsible for care and maintenance of shelters, service-centres, water supply and sanitation and community services activities for the refugees. Since January 2006, LWF has taken over the responsibilities for the distribution of food and non-food items, including vegetables for the refugees, upon the request of UNHCR and WFP.

THE NEPAL RED CROSS Distributed food and other essential rations until the beginning of 2006 when LWF took over.

CARITAS (Nepal) Since 1992, the UNHCR has delegated responsibility for secondary and higher secondary education for refugees to CARITAS (Nepal) under the management of the Jesuit Refugee Service, South Asia. There are over 35,000 pupils and 700 teachers in the refugee schools. The programme is run almost entirely by Bhutanese, with a small number of Nepali staff.

THE NEPAL BAR ASSOCIATION Provides legal counseling and legal representation for victims and alleged perpetrators of serious crimes, including gender-based violence.

AMDA Association of Medical Doctors of Asia. Provides primary health care.

OXFAM OXFAM Nepal organised non-formal adult literacy and pre-school education classes for the refugees from 1992-1996 before withdrawing from the camps. It also initiated community-based income generation programmes and rehabilitation programmes for people with special needs.

SCF UK Save the Children UK
From 1992 until 2002 SCF UK provided basic health care to the refugees and looked after preventative care and health education. They also established the original Children’s Forum Project (link to The Children’s Forum) for the young people of the camps.

THE CENTRE FOR VICTIMS OF TORTURE NEPAL (CVICT) In 1995 and 1996 CVICT initiated programmes of occupational therapy and medical counselling for those traumatised by violent experiences in Bhutan.

Refugee-run organisations

BRAVVE Bhutanese Refugee Aid for Victims of Violence

BRWF Bhutanese Refugee Women’s Forum
Refugee women’s organisation focusing on income generation, health and women’s rights, with representation in all 7 camps