The last Bhutanese refugees in Nepal


1972. The Kingdom of Bhutan gave birth to the concept "Gross National Happiness" in stark contrast to the Gross Domestic Product, the economic indicator associated with levels of development in countries. Masquerading itself as a populist monarchy during the end of the 80's and the beginning of the 90's, the Bhutanese government enacted a segregationist policy to suffocate the growth of its own minority groups. This policy led to the eviction of approximately 1/6th of its population. Over 100,000 people were removed of their nationalities, dispossessed of their lands and faced forced to exile.


Most of Bhutanese refugees have Nepalese ancestry. They are called "Lhotsampas" ("people from the south" in Dzongkha language). Some other minorities are targeted as well, such as the Sharchops, persecuted for being a part of a Buddhist branch (Nyingma) different from the one of the monarchy (Khagyu). Ever since, Bhutanese refugees have been living in confined camps in south-east Nepal. Their lives torn apart between desolation and the hope of an unlikely return to their country.


After years of pointless nepalo-bhutanese discussions, the resettlement of the refugees in a third country seemed to be the one and only possible outcome to solve the problem. In 2006, The United States of America launched a resettlement program (followed by Australia, Canada, Denmark, New-Zealand, Norway, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom) which gave them a chance at a better future. Some of these refugees started to rebuild there lives in the West, where as numerous others remain in the camps, wandering aimlessly, waiting for their visa to be procured.


Since the beginning of the resettlement program refugee camps have been slowly evacuated. There dismantling marks a break with the world trend that has seen a sharp rise in refugee camps in other areas in the world. Today, for dozens of thousands of refugees, it is a fresh start after almost twenty years of exile.



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