Refugee life in Nepal and its constraints:
A brief commentary, the real life time experience

By Mahendra Adhikari, Narayan Neopaney and Bikas Koirala

There are seven refugee camps in the eastern part of Nepal in Jhapa and Morang districts of eastern Nepal, which were established by United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees(UNHCR) in 1992 and 1993.There are six camps in Jhapa district and one in Morang district. Since 1987 Bhutanese government started its pressure to evict innocent people belonging to Nepali ethnic group from the country. This group of people faced inhumane behaviour, torture and a number of rape counts perpetrated by the law enforcing agencies of the government of Bhutan. In addition to above mentioned atrocities, the implementation of martial law led to the eviction of around 100,000 Bhutanese the government of Bhutan especially in 1992 and 1993. But by the grace of the God, the evicted Bhutanese got at least a small place to survive in the eastern part of Nepal.

The Camps are made up of clusters of huts out of Bamboo, Thatch and Plastic etc. There are units and sub-units of huts in the camps, designed to ease the distribution of facilities provided by the donor agencies especially, UNHCR. UNHCR along with the Government of Nepal is responsible for the overall management of Camps in the eastern part of Nepal. The small clustered huts are arranged into rows, all having small or no gaps in between the rows. But the hut opposite facing each other have a bit more gap with enough space for people to get in and out of the huts. There is no electricity in the camps. Everybody is used to with small kerosene lamp. The huts are so small that the people with large family members are not able to adjust properly. During monsoon time water leaks through the roof of the huts making everything wet, even the sleeping beds.

UNHCR provides food stuffs like rice, vegetables, kerosene oil, coal for cooking food, etc. But the food stuffs provided are too limited for the allocated days, more often people go to sleep empty stomach. Because of the insufficient basic necessities and adequate hygienic conditions, people suffered from various difficult situations. Quarrel and robbery are common among the people because of limited food stuffs. People from the camp, though illegal to nearby villages in Nepal and as far as to south of India in search of jobs and to earn some money to make their living diverse. Mostly because of the lack of hygienic food people used to suffer from under nutrition, pneumonia, diarrhoea etc. There is water supply in the camps which is insufficient for the people. Even to fetch water they have to travel a long distance to the nearby villages or streams.

Within a Camp there is a Camp Secretary, who remains as the head of the Camp, elected from among the people. Under the Camp Secretary there are unit heads and sub- unit heads and away from the hierarchy of heads at different levels, there is a Camp Management Committee (CMC). CMC includes the elected members from among the people from different units and sub-units and is responsible for the management of Camp including the Judiciary system.

In terms of health care, primary Health Posts are established in all camps in the beginning by UNICEF (UK) and later on run under AMDA Nepal which provides primary and emergency health care. The untrained and irresponsible health workers treat patients wrongly and many more people lost their lives without a reason and many more live disabled. For major health problems the patients are referred to district, zone and national level hospital of Nepal. On the recent days when the resettlement for third countries are started there is no good health care provided to the Bhutanese refugees. Even at the zonal hospital, there are bitter experience of Bhutanese patients who are ill treated by Doctors and Health workers.

In the Camp, small children and youth go to school, but 40% of the adults have no work. Some adults go to adult schools and others remain at their huts doing nothing. Normally People are compelled to live within the Camp premises. If they need to go out, they need to take permission from the Camp authority. However the camp authority provides permission for students going for higher studies, patients going out for treatment, and some special appointments in different offices outside the camp. Other than these reasons, there is a restriction for the people to go out of camp.

Life in Camp is too hard, miserable and monotonous. Most often they were tortured by Nepalese people, Nepal police, and ill treatment from the Nepalese authority and even there used to be clashes between the people from the camp and local people. Moreover there are evidences of rape, drug abuse in the Camps. Actually, in the recent days, Camp has become a ground of degradation for the upcoming generation and ground of hopelessness for the grown ups. They are out of reach of the world. There are no phone and internet services in the camp, no TV, etc.

The refugee life in Nepal is really heart touching. Only the one who suffered this know the bitter reality and even who goes to see there can imagine the real life of Bhutanese refugees in Camps. While seeing all these realities, Bhutanese refugee camps in the eastern part of Nepal are the jails of mentally frustrated people seeing no hopes for the future. Suddenly by 2007, the decision taken by UNHCR along with the Western Countries likes USA, Canada, Australia, Norway, the Netherlands, Denmark, New-Zealand for third country settlement brought new hopes and vision for all the Bhutanese refugees. So, we can’t remain without thanking the countries who are involved in third country settlement of Bhutanese refugees along with UN.