This website is no longer actively maintained
Some material and features may be unavailable

January 20, 2009
Bhutanese still in Nepal’s refugee camps after 18 years

Bhutanese refugees at the Beldangi 2 camp in Nepal.

Though they fled or were forced out of Bhutan more than 18 years ago, Bhutan’s ethnic Nepalis have yet to return.

Altogether, more than 103,000 people of ethnic Nepali origin in Bhutan left that country in the 1990s after new citizenship laws were implemented. Many ended up in sparse refugee camps in Nepal.

The Bhutanese government says the majority of the refugees were illegal immigrants.

In the past few years, several thousands of refugees have resettled in the West — but thousands more still remain in the Nepalese camps. 

Don Duncan is a freelance print and radio reporter and videographer who has reported from Afghanistan, France, Bhutan, Hong Kong, Lebanon, Nepal, Spain and the United States.  He writes at World Politics Review about the situation of Bhutan’s ethnic Nepalese minority.

Bhutan’s Radicalized Refugees

When Matimya Moktan, 41, saw her husband Manbahadur standing unannounced in their doorway after a nine-year absence in prison, her heart sank.

“I was sad to see him back here again,” said Matimya, one of more than 100,000 Bhutanese refugees living in United Nations-administered camps in eastern Nepal. “I had hoped I would see him again in Bhutan, but his standing back in our doorway meant we may never get back there,” she adds, seated in the corner of the family’s dark wattle-and-daub hut in the Beldangi I refugee camp, five kilometers outside the Nepalese town of Damak.

Manbahadur returned following nine years spent in a Bhutanese prison for having illegally re-entered the country and staging a protest demanding the return to Bhutan of his people, Bhutan’s ethnic Nepalese minority that was expelled in 1991.

Sandwiched between Communist China and largely Hindu India, tiny Buddhist Bhutan, with its population of a mere 600,000, has been given to fits of ethnic and cultural protectionism throughout its history. An impressive necklace of cliff-perched fortresses — or Dzongs — that dot the country’s mountainous perimeter testify to past efforts.

By the 1980s, when the ethnic Nepalese bloc mushroomed to represent one third of the kingdom’s population, Bhutan responded with a “one nation, one people” policy that at once bolstered the majority Drukpa culture by mandating its traditional dress and language for all, and restricted the rights of the ethnic Nepalese population. After a series of civil rights protests by the ethnic Nepalese, many of whom were Bhutanese citizens, the state clamped down — hard.

“We left because we were scared that they would imprison us, that they would beat us, that I would be raped,” Matimya told World Politics Review. In the weeks leading up to her family’s departure from Bhutan in 1991, she says, the army had begun to take women away from their houses.

This was just one tactic in what human rights groups say was a widespread campaign of ethnic cleansing of a minority population that claims to have arrived in Bhutan as early as the mid-1800s. Other tactics, say the refugees, included torture, beatings and the destruction of property.

But in today’s Bhutan, which in March made the transition from a century of absolute monarchy to become the world’s newest democracy, another narrative prevails.

“Deep inside, they know they never belonged to this country,” says Bhutanese Prime Minister Dorjee Y Thinley in his office in Bhutan’s capital Thimphu. What is labeled elsewhere as an ethnic cleansing of Bhutanese citizens is seen in Bhutan as the “regularization” of an illegal immigration problem that had been left unbridled for decades. “They are refugees not of Bhutan, but of the ecological degradation, political upheavals, economic deprivation and insecurity in Nepal,” Thinley says, referring to Nepal’s 10-year civil war that ended in 2006.

For almost two decades, the fate of these refugees has been suspended between these two versions of events.

To read more, see the original post

The views expressed by contributing bloggers do not reflect the views of Worldfocus or its partners.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Katrine Syppli under a Creative Commons license.

bookmark    print




I have become a friend of a Buhtanese family in my city. They arrived 2 months ago and I’m helping them make the cultural transition, learn English and find employment in the US.
I have showed them how to use an electric stove, baseball and golf. They have taught me a valuable lesson in humility.
Good bless them!


I am so glad to see many of my Lhotsampa friends on this message board. I am proud how you have adjusted to the USA and other countries, and I wish God’s continued blessing on your lives. I know many of you wish you could go back to Bhutan. Maybe this will happen someday, if this is your desire I hope so. Shame on the Bhutanese government for the expulsion and suffering of the Lhotsampa people.


hi,every body who love bhutan.i miss a lot who live in camp.please, my dear bhutnese friends think about ur’s life n new i m in usa.


Hi I am AMBER 4m Australia.In nepal i live in goldhap camp.I like australia. i like to say one thing to all who still live in camp people u 4get ur bhutan dream ,make ur child bright ok bye


Denver welcomes the Nepali-speaking Bhutanese refugees. I am happy to befriend these newcomers.

It is wrong for Bhutan to ban cultural traditions, and purge those who were born on its soil, and not allow them a safe return. Some of the refugees have papers documenting their citizenship.

It is often difficult to accommodate all the cultures existing in one country. But human rights require that every country make the effort, not favor one group and punish the other because they are different. Strength is gained when different cultures learn to work together for the common good. And when that is not possible, morality still demands tolerance and acceptance.


really i will retun bhutan after 5 yrs.i missed nepal n my mother land, the land of thunder dragon,bhutan


I have been a volunteer for the last 18 months for the Bhutanese refugees that have settled in the Albury/Wodonga area of Australia. Everyone is settling well and intergrating into western life – although it is a little fast for some. The children are all achieving good results in school with some year-12’s and mature-aged adults being admitted into varied university courses this year. Well done to all my Bhutanese friends – you have all come a long way in such a short time and you should all be proud of your achievements even if you are still waiting to be employed – it will happen !!!


Thanks a lot to read about the Bhutanese refugees after 18 years of their staying in Nepal. I pray to Lord almighty that let their’s mind be abruptly
changed to get resettled then to waste their time
and shortened their life span in frustrations and depressions expecting nothing else then to invite
miserable outcomes.


now i am at boise city of idaho state i got job after seven month of my arrival in u.s.a.we need to work hard but our life totally changes into luxurious.i want to call my friends relatives to u. soon as possible.this is my advice to everyone who are in nepal.


hi i really miss my home land.i hope i will go bhutan after 5 years.america is better then epal


hi i’m bikash right now iam in america iam happy here


I would like to say some more points to the bhutanese people, friends and relatives who are still living in the camps in Nepal that THIRD COUNTRY RE-SETTLEMENT PROCESS is the only solution for to make future of our children. There is nothing to worry about the process. Do it first, still there is some time left. Think about your children and their future. forget about bhutan, our grandparents also left from Nepal to Bhutan for our good.Now it is our time to leave and forget Bhutan for the betterment of our children.
Hurry up don’t dream about bhutan now.


I am now living in a place like heaven. i have everythings that I need. I am now working in one of the biggest Supermarket of Pittsburgh, in Pennsylvenia state of USA. I am happy with my family and new friends here.
I want to relay the message to all the bhutanese friends and the people who are still in the refugee camps in Nepal that opportunity comes ones and we must be able to graps it before it is too late.
Bhutan is also not the land of our ancestors so it is futile to say and stand by arguing for repatration.
The world is common place for the people of all the races so do not delay to resettle in the country like USA which is one of the biggest and most powerful in every cases.Human being are really treated like human being in this country.
I have more for mext time .
Thank you.


Khem bro i am in job corps centre in Nebraska at Chadron. I am doing well here and i am getting high school education. It is better place for all students who wanna know more english and have better life. Lots and lots of bhutanese are homeless now so, i think it is time to think about them and help them to bring them in previous conditions.


All my dear bhutaness fans who are in USA.Try to search job corps center.It is hundered and pluse schoolership.Right now i am in PA with that schoolership.It is better education center.Hope you will do you best.and it is available in all the state.


hey, i am very happy to see this web site.this me khim all they way from key stone college hostel,PA.I really missing all my fans and family who are still over there in nepal.I am missing all nepali couse i am the only one nepali in hostel. I feel alone.missing you all my nepali sathi.


Dear Lovely BHUTANESE,good and bad is the insight of an one sees the self and the world so he/she sees the people and the place.Any way I suggest do not dream dollar but be a dollar yourself and plan for third country settlement.YET DEEPLY THINK OF FUTURE CAMP LIFE.




hi my name is sumitra and iam also bhutanese refugee girl. now iam in United states and iam a high school student. i still feel bad about my past life


My name is Nicki, and I am from america. My father works with Hari to house refugees. I teach english to some.Catholic Charities and Peace Corp are trying to get as many people out of refugee camps and into america as they can. Never loose hope. Maybe I will see you here some day. And someday, the fight will end and you can go back to your home countries. It may not be in the next few years, but it will happen.


hello everyone…i guess there is a miss understanding in this article published…most of the information are fake…for an instance the author doesn’t even know the name of the Prime Minister of Bhutan….ha ha ha very funny!can we trust…????????????????????


If you(BHUTANESE PEOPLE IN NEPAL)would like to see the actual world instead of those thatched huts common hurry up you have a hreat opportinity still got time to see the REAL WORLD.I suggest you to resettle to see the not waste the life of your children.


hey bhutanese comman.wake up n see the happy is the world.ur still sleeping in camp….


iam bhutanese refugee from nepal.right now iam in illinois moline city.i want to say all my bhutanese younger to come here in usa and do hard work and make a life luxiours.if u wanna contact me and u wanna know some abt usa i may give u little bit explanation abt contact no is 3099488839.


that all bhutanese people who already arived in USA they know what in bhutan,nepal and state of america .we need to be hard working,honest and thoughfull so we can a be reached in our distination.i m bhim from missouri and i also suggest all bhutanese to re-settle ur home in UNITED STATE OF AMERICA ok byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee


Do good, better n best ur future will be good in third country settlement.
Iam in usa newyork now n i like usa that that of nepal. i have to do hard labour here but my future generation future will be good. If u want to be my fan plz add on ok byeee to all.


Firstly hi to all the bhutanese refugee people those who r in nepal, usa, canada, austrilia etc. n how u doing now a days……….


Hi, the Durable n the last solution to Bhutanese Refugees is third Countries Resettlement. I M now in USA,Cincinnati,OHIO, Byeeeeee


Every nepalies should be protected on the basis of their desent.Rised the voice against butanease governmant… we have to rise voice… coz we r bhutanease… we should live in ours country


hi,i m mukti bastola.Before 17 year i live in sainchare camp in nepal.So currently i m resettled in washington,seattle.I want to advice to my friend be aware of ur problem.So it is our choice that the option given by UNHCR.In my understanding it is better to do third country process because the life is different from refugee life as well as prison life and also ther e is protection of our wealth in third country.So,i m sorry to leave my all friend in NEPAL.thank you wish u all the best


I have been reading the suggestion given by many bhutanese refugee people who had been to uas , australia ; canada, norway, Ny and australia.i am also keen interested to have a good life in any one of the country or state of other countr othetr then nepal but i want to have a better solution of brep.
Hpe u all give better solution of it .


hello, i m chandra from washington, tacoma. thanks for ur comments and our story.


i really miss my friends who are living in nepal
i wise they have better future and be happy where you are.


I am Parti Man Rai from sarbang bhutan.iIlived in khudunabari camp for 17 years and now i am in california,U S A.My suggession is that here is better oppurtunities then of Nepal.


bhutanese goverment is challing the welfare of bhutanese refugee.they are weak and poor but they will more power later on.with will commet the goverment polisy and make the goverment free of coverility


Namaskar to all my ama, baba and all my elder onces …………m frm califonia sacramento.i came though iom process.i wanna suggest you that plz fill the form for reseettlement process and come is totally different from there.Its too good to be here and we shold nt b late …so plz ………….thanks see you soon here


i wish all of my friends and relatives to resettles in is as good to be here.all peoples are helpful to all of bhutanese and other countries all are well come to u.s.a.


i being one of the Bhutanese refugee would like to say that it is the time now to speak what they think bye every refugees than to let others speak about them.


[…] ภาพที่ 6: มีการอพยพผู้ลี้ภัยไปประเทศที่สาม ซึ่งทางสหรัฐฯ บอกว่า รับได้ปีละ 1 หมื่น จึงมีความเป็นไปได้ว่า ในอนาคตผู้ลี้ภัยในเนปาลจะค่อยๆ ลดลงไปเรื่อยๆ > [ BBC ] , [ Worldfocus ]  […]


[…] ภาพที่ 6: มีการอพยพผู้ลี้ภัยไปประเทศที่สาม ซึ่งทางสหรัฐฯ บอกว่า รับได้ปีละ 1 หมื่น จึงมีความเป็นไปได้ว่า ในอนาคตผู้ลี้ภัยในเนปาลจะค่อยๆ ลดลงไปเรื่อยๆ > [ BBC ] , [ Worldfocus ]  […]


I m a Refugee from Sanischare camp, and right now i m in Chicago USA. I want to advise all my Bhutanese friends to do process for third country settlement. The situation of camp is not good. at least u cannot be in hunger if u go to third country


The review is absolutely biased. Those Nepalese terrorist were trying to gain their own independant state in Bhutan. They resorted to violence and lost. They have has much to do with Bhutan as a white farmer in africa. They only came to take advantage of the country.


Don Duncan has either no knowledge of what problem is….He is trying to say to world peaceful refugees have trying to become millitants in came due to handful of hardliner criminals joining ULFA or NDFB groups.
I tell the author to find out how many in camps have filled up forms to resettled and how eagar to go….rather focusing on millitants.
NDFB/ULFA/KLO wants to pay back Bhutan Govts and may be using few criminals for that…. but that will die down… Bhutan has challenge to protect from Bodos and KLOs not from Refugees any more…


oh that’s right, Don Duncan does go to Bhutan and goes straight to Tika Maya something and instantly reaffirms everything the other tika mayas from Jhapa have told him.
great journalist. Just like Charles Haviland.


I visited both Bhutan and Nepal and I understand fully why Bhutan would never want to make sure that illegal immigrants from Nepal from overwhelming Bhutan. Nepal today is a country that’s hopelessly corrupt, and is in a basic state of collapse. The average Nepali seems not not to want to work for a living but try and cheat,bribe every foreigner the moment they touch down at the the airports. Even though the country has one of the largest hydro elettric potential in the world, 16 hour power outages every day are the norm. Kudos to Bhutan for making sure such filthy people don’t take over their country.


I was not aware that the Prime Minister of Bhutan was called Dorjee Y Thinley? I always thought his name was Jigme Y Thinley. It just goes to show how little the author of this article Mr Don Duncan understands Bhutan and the so called problem of Nepali refugees from Bhutan in Nepal?????


Wait for part II and III of this series. He also goes to Bhutan, gets the Bhutanese perspective…. be patient


Don Duncan is Charles Haviland re-born. Worked in nepal, met only the refugees, and without any perspective from Bhutan. Charles Haviland seems to have come around having finally visited Bhutan, Don Duncan is still finding his way.

Facebook Twitter YouTube

Produced by Creative News Group LLC     ©2018 WNET.ORG     All rights reserved

Distributed by American Public Television