Surrounded by stunning forest, Beldangi is an example of how a refugee camp should be. Only one banner and a barrier at the main entrance indicate that some 22,000 Bhutanese refugees still live there with the dilemma of not knowing to which country they belong. After Bhutan expelled hundreds of thousands of people following a campaign of ethnic cleansing by the Bhutanese Government against the country's ethnic Nepali population over twenty years ago, Nepal took the refugees in and now countries such as the United States and Canada are waiting for them to finally start rebuilding their lives away from the mountains under which they grew up.
The resettlement program for Bhutanese refugees in Nepal is one of the largest in the world, if not the largest. Over 108,000 of the approximately 120,000 refugees who fled from Bhutan to Nepal in the early 1990s have already been resettled in third countries, including over 90,000 in the United States alone, and many of them are already well on their way to building new lives. After more than 20 years in Nepal, over 90% of the refugees have been successfully resettled in third countries, thanks to programs by UNHCR and IOM.
With little prospect of being able to settle permanently in Nepal, resettlement in a third country is the only foreseeable option for many of Bhutan’s refugees. And with many already settled in the US or other countries, many see leaving Nepal as a hope for a better future, especially for the younger generation. Yet, after living in refugee camps for close to 25 years, the journey to a foreign country, where they will have to get accustomed to a completely new way of life, learn a new language, and adapt to a new culture, is one that is fraught with worries.Those remaining the camps are supported by several organizations that undertake a wide variety of projects. Helped by remittances sent back to Nepal by families already resettled in other countries, the refugees still in the camps have set up their own small businesses in the camps and the roads near them, roads which are also replete with Nepali-owned businesses who benefit directly from the refugees that are still waiting in Nepal to be resettled in third countries.
“There are no other options aside from being an American. The Bhutanese people won’t take us back. In the past, there was a lot of talk about them taking us back, but now that hope is also gone,” says 51-year-old Duku Maya Dhakal, who is being resettled in the US with her husband and two teenage children
“Everyone wants to go back to their homelands, where they were born. But if life is good in America, why would we want to go back to Bhutan?” she adds.
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