Nepal

Bhutanese Refugee operation situation: At present

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As of July 31th 2003, a total of 102.893 Bhutanese refugees were registered in seven camps, six camps in Jhapa, and one camp in Morang district of eastern Nepal.

An additional number estimated at between 10,000 to 15,000 is believed to have spontaneously settled elsewhere in the country. Only those refugees who are living inside the camps are receiving assistance.

The Governments of Nepal and Bhutan, in their tenth round of bilateral talks held in Kathmandu from 24 - 28 December 2000, agreed to establish a Joint Verification Team (JVT) for validation of family relationship as well as verification of the status of people in the camps as the basis for future repatriation.

In March 2001, the Joint Verification Team started the verification process at Khudunabari camp and team verified more than 12000 Bhutanese refugees. The joint verification team was suspended for long time after completion of verification process at Khudhunabari camp. The joint verification team office was situated in Damak, Jhapa, Nepal. After series of diplomatic developments, the result of that verification was confirmed only in June 2003. It became clear that the Bhutan government has accepted that 75% of the 12.000 in this first camp had the right to return to Bhutan. The repatriation process was planned to start in the middle of February 2004 for around 9.000 refugees. As per the plan, the Joint Verification team entered the camp to give information to the refugees regarding the repatriation process and under what conditions the refugees could stay in Nepal in the middle of December 2003. Later the team was supposed to distribute voluntary repatriation forms as well as forms to be filled in for those who would prefer to stay in Nepal. While delivering the information, refugees in the camp showed some hostile reactions towards the Bhutanese representatives of the Joint team which lead to that the representatives left the camps and Nepal to return to Bhutan. According to statements from the Nepal government, this was an unanticipated incident because of misunderstanding between the representatives of both governments, while the Bhutanese government had stated that this showed a major security problem.

It had earlier been decided by both governments that the verification process would continue in Sanischare camp. This camp is the second most populated camp and biggest camp by area. Based on the earlier experiences the verification process has taken long time, and currently it is unclear if and when it would be re-started. The majority, or maybe all, of the refugees will therefore remain in the camps. The joint verification team of Bhutan government is not in Nepal at this time. It means that that the refugees are very assertive. Host population are also loosing their patience.

On the top of this, UNHCR has adopted a facing down strategy of maintenance and care activities to instead support development activities. This year UNHCR has deducted the quantity of kerosene the refugees had been receiving from the 1994. Similarly they had deducted the vegetable items from the vegetable basket. It has also created uncertainty for Bhutanese refugees' lives in coming future. Other organizations are also following the UNHCR strategies slowly. The Nepal Red Cross has been implementing the distribution of food and non-food items funded by UNHCR and WFP. It is responsible for the ambulance service. Fire prevention and control program inside refugee camps. This programme has been implemented since 1993. UNHCR has expressed their intention to drop the fire prevention and fire fighting program in the near future. The ambulance service might also not be supported. In cooperation with the WFP, NRCS is running a home gardening programme. WFP has also announced intension to change the strategy to implement this program. Within the Federation's Regional Population Movement Programme, the NRCS has implemented a life skill project, training both refugees and local population in vocational skills. The impact of this training has been considered good. People are demanding similar kinds of training in future. The situation is developing very quickly regarding the Bhutanese refugee operation. Nepal Red Cross is appealing for funding for school uniforms and non-food items for the refugee children through the Federation Appeal in 2004. The appeal will also be revised to reflect the new policy of the UNHCR. Besides, NRCS has shared other proposal with it's' partner sister societies and intended to share with more sister societies who are interested to participate in Bhutanese refugees operation.