Bhutanese Refugees come to Nepal

The Exodus

Bhutanese fleeing Bhutan in early 1991 first arrived in Assam and West Bengal in India. They set up makeshift camps and hoped for the situation to normalize. Instead, as the situation in Bhutan worsened and the refugees were not permitted to set up permanent camps in India, a small group of refugees crossed into Nepal and established the first camp by the banks of Mai river in July 1991 which housed only 235 refugees.

From August 1991, the influx of refugees increased at the rate of 1,000 a month. The flow of refugees leaped in February 1992 to a massive 10,000 per month. The period from February to March 1992 saw the refugee population rise to 48,000.

Conditions at Maidhar in late 1991 were grim, but the refugee leaders quickly organised themselves and sought help from the local community. Local Nepalese responded with donations of rice, bamboo, money and wood.

However, with thousands to feed and shelter it was becoming impossible to manage. Many died and hundreds suffered from malnutrition and diseases.

UNHCR Becomes Involved

Urgent appeals for help resulted in assistance from Lutheran World Service (LWS), and in adhoc humanitarian relief from UNHCR at the end of 1991.

Following formal requests from the Nepalese government, UNHCR began regular assistance to the Bhutanese refugees at the beginning of 1992.UNHCR now channels its assistance through its implementing partners.

At its peak, the population of Maidhar camp alone was 24,000. The site was susceptible to flooding and dangerously overcrowded. Refugee leaders and Nepal Government officials, with some assistance from NGOs, located new sites in Jhapa and Morang districts of southeastern Nepal. Seven camps in these cite now shelter over 96,000 refugees.

Refugee camps in Nepal  |  Implementing Agencies