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Bhutanese refugee children want new lives

More than 40,000 Bhutanese refugees are children and suffer worse than adult refugees.
(Naresh Newar/IRIN)

Basudev Osti, a 17-year-old Bhutanese citizen, grew up in the refugee camp of Khudanabari in Jhapa district, about 500km east of the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu.

“My dream is to be liberated from my state as a refugee. But our future is so uncertain,” Osti told IRIN on 30 October.

Since 1990, Bhutanese citizens of Nepalese origin - known as Lhotsampas in Bhutan - have been forced out of their homes by the Bhutanese government after a law was enforced stripping them of citizenship and civil rights due to their ancestry.

More than 40,000 children are among the refugees who grew up in the camps, according to the Bhutanese Refugee Children’s Forum.

The forum was established with Save the Children (UK) in 1997 to help refugee children raise their concerns of protection and welfare. Other agencies, such as the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), Lutheran World Federation and Photo Voice (UK) are helping the children in training and development activities.

“Our problems are much worse than those of the adult refugees as we not only share the impoverished conditions of our parents but also suffer from health, as well as social, discrimination,” said 17-year-old Rebika Bhandari.

Neglect

Refugee children drop out of schools and suffer from health problems due to their parents’ poverty.

Bhandari recounted how some children had to face scorn at some hospitals in the cities. She escorted a 13-year-old girl to a government hospital in Biratnagar, nearly 100km from Damak, and the local doctor failed to examine her despite repeated requests.

“The problem got much worse when the doctor decided to ignore us directly because we shouted at him in frustration and it made him angrier,” she added.

The young girl was in a critical state and had to sleep on a trolley cart for nearly three days. It was only after constant requests for help from local nurses that they managed to get a bed and some medicines in the hospital.

Read more on Bhutanese refugees
 Some 60,000 Bhutanese refugees could settle in USA “soon”
 Bhutanese refugees in Nepal - UNHCR report 2006
 The Need for Durable Solutions for Bhutanese Refugees in Nepal and India - HRW
 Discrimination against Ethnic Nepali Children in Bhutan - HRW


Education suffers

“A lot of children have to quit school to help their parents add to the household income,” said Rinchin Tamang, 17.

Through the help of UNHCR and Caritas NGO, the children get free education in the schools inside the refugee camps but they still have to buy uniforms and stationery.

According to the forum, almost 10 percent of children have already dropped out of school to work as labourers to help their parents as the aid is not enough for their survival.

“If you want to know our problems, then you will have an endless list,” said Churamani Mainali, 18, who revealed how his parents were brutally beaten by Bhutanese police just before they were evicted from their homes.

“Although I was only two years old when I was forced out of my country with my parents I can imagine the pain they went through,” said
Mainali.

He added that the Bhutanese government has fortified all its borders to prohibit entry of refugees. “How can we ever return home?” asked Mainali.

The children also explained their problems of insufficient food at home. Their only source of food is through the UN World Food Programme (WFP), which provides about 5.6kg of rice for two weeks but the children say the food is not always sufficient.

"We have every right to go back home and the world has to pay attention to us and not forget us so easily," said Tamang.

Tamang explained how the first generation of Lhotsampas had migrated from Nepal to the southern lowlands of Bhutan during the 19th century upon the invitation of the Bhutanese government to help the country clear the malaria-infested jungles for agricultural purposes.

"We have every proof to our right to live as citizens in Bhutan and the government cannot deny that in the face of the world," said Mainali.

Nobody was immediately available at the Bhutanese ministry of information and communications for comment.

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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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