Young Bhutanese Refugees in Eastern Nepal

Big Lottery Fund BannerRefugee Youth Project currently works in Bhutanese refugee camps in the east of Nepal, supported by a grant from the Big Lottery Fund.

Background

Following a political crisis in Bhutan in 1990, many southern Bhutanese of Nepali origin were forcefully evicted from their homeland and arrived in Nepal where, with the help of local people, they settled on the banks of the river Maidhar. Due to a lack of health services, sanitation, proper food and water, many children and adults died of diseases. By 1992 - 1993, the UNHCR began working to construct camps for the refugees. It has now been over one and a half decades since the refugee crisis, and the refugees are still living in seven UNHCR-administered refugee camps in the Jhapa and Morang districts in eastern Nepal. There are currently 109,311 registered Bhutanese refugees in Nepal (RCU November 2007). Amongst the total refugee population there are 37,241 children (BRCF Central Office Report, December 2006). There are many different agencies, such as LWF, AMDA, WFP and CARITAS which help with camp maintenance, ration distribution, health, education and other programmes.

Refugee Youth Project in Nepal

Big Lottery Fund Hand

Between September 2007 and March 2008 Refugee Youth Project implemented a child research project in the Bhutanese camps, in partnership with the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and the Bhutanese Refugee Children Forum (BRCF). It was funded by a grant from the Big Lottery Fund. Research assistants, project officers and child researchers were recruited in October 2007. Project staff received two days of orientation training in mid-October 2007. 29 Bhutanese child researchers and project staff then took part in research methods training, during which child researchers discussed issues affecting refugee children in the camps and identified one topic to research in each camp. Data collection was carried out during November/December 2007 and the report writing and presentations were completed in December 2007 and January 2008.

Following the presentations, pilot activities, primarily in awareness raising, are now being implemented in the camps on a range of topics chosen by the child researchers. Topics include elopement, children without parents, children with disabilities, child labour and gender discrimination.

Children's research findings

The findings of the research done by the young refugees in the Bhutanese refugee camps was presented at Refugee Youth Project's 2008 AGM, and are available here: Bhutanese Refugee Children's Research.

Vulnerable Bhutanese Refugee Children Support Project

In 2008, Refugee Youth Project initiated a new project in Nepal, funded by the Foundation Open Society Institute. This project provided training and support for young refugees and local service providers to better identify and provide assistance to the most vulnerable Bhutanese refugee children. BRCF staff and members are working closely with school counselors to identify children living in particularly difficult circumstances in the camps. Vulnerable young refugees are then assisted by school counselors who administer a hardship fund. This fund enables vulnerable young refugees to meet their basic needs, such as clothing, adequate food, school materials and fees (after class 10), which will allow vulnerable refugees to attend school and focus on study, rather than engaging in income-generation work to cover their living costs. BRCF members are also working with school counsellors to implement activities to support their more vulnerable peers and improve their skills and confidence.