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Struggles in the Lhotshampa Refugee Camps

Written by Subhash Kattel

Nothing could bring a silver lining on the black cloud of uncertainty to the Bhutanese refugee: Bhutan is not ready to take them back, Nepal is not accepting them as its own citizen, and the humanitarian organizations begin to feel tired of supporting the  Lhotshampa for an unknown time. (Read more about the history here.)

The (hi)story of being a refugee is full of inhumane treatment, torture, coarse and horror from the Bhutanese authorities while they were in Bhutan. Many people left their homes out of fear and darkness. Some were killed within Bhutan and some on the way to Nepal. So, this is a story full of violence, mass terror, and trauma of being a refugee. There are many crimes, substance abuse, conflicts, violence in families and in communities, and crisis in basic human needs and qualities of life occurring at  increasing frequency and severity in the camp.
Third country resettlement issue have also increased conflict and sometimes violence in the camps. Some are willing to be resettled in other countries and some want to go back to Bhutan. There are different views within families. Older generations are less willing to go to unknown places and cultures. This has split many families. On the other hand, only those refugees who have no criminal history (like involvement in any unlawful activities and so on) and are in good standing are taken to the third countries. Those who have poor records are left behind. It is causing an increase in difficulties in the camps in recent days. Bhutanese refugee girls married to Nepali man are in trouble because they are not eligible for the third country resettlement. Some of them are leaving their marital relations and returned back to camp with the hope of resettling in developed countries. Some have done ‘only in paper’ divorce for the purpose.

We (AVP facilitators’ team who traveled to the camp recently) observed the following situation/issues in the refugee camp while traveled for AVP workshops recently:

– Unmanaged, and in some cases unidentified, situations of conflicts are occurring within self, in families, as well as in community level. They are widespread and deepening in the camps because of present situation in the camps like the third country resettlement;
– There is a lack of personal and interpersonal understanding as well as skills in dealing nonviolently to such various levels of conflicts;
– Violence is knowingly  and unknowingly accepted and practiced in refugee’s daily lives;
– There is a lack of personal strength and skills to neutralize such violence, and move towards alternative/creative solutions;
– There is very low self esteem and self respect amongst the refugee population;
– Positive attitude towards life, others, and society is very weak;
– Substance use in youth population is heavily increasing (it is fueled by the transmittance money sent into the camp by the refugees who are already resettled in the third countries)
– Frustration about self, family, and society is visible and is in challenging level;
– There is a need of positive activities for the youths to get involved in within the refugee camp;
– Female are more vulnerable in the households and they are directly challenged by the results of negativity, low self esteem and violence;
– Trust to self and others as a possible and capable human being to face the daily life challenges is very weak;
– Feeling of life insecurity and helplessness is clearly visible; and
– Refugee community and the host communities have yet to intermingle and understand each other properly concerning their life situation

The word ‘refugee’ itself is a traumatic one. Most of the participants seems to be suffering by trauma due to their 20 years long refugee life. They are in need of support to come out of such trauma.