Nepali in Bhutan
The first reports of people of Nepalese origin in Bhutan
was around 1620, when Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal
commissioned a few Newar craftsmen from the
Kathmandu (Nepal) to make a silver stupa to contain the
ashes of his father Tempa Nima.
During the late 19th Century, contractors working for the
Bhutanese government began to organize the settlement
of Nepali-speaking people in uninhabited areas of
southern Bhutan in order to open those areas up for
The south soon became the country's main supplier of
food. By 1930, according to British colonial officials,
much of the south was under cultivation by a population
of Nepali origin that amounted to some 60,000 people.
The Bhutanese refugees are people claiming to
be Lhotshampas (southerners), a group of
people of Nepalese origin, including some
Kirat, Tamang, and Gurung peoples.
These refugees registered in refugee camps in
eastern Nepal during the 1990s affirming to be
Bhutanese citizens deported from Bhutan.
Around 103,000 Nepali-speaking Bhutanese
were forced to flee their homes (many in
appalling situations), and ended up in 7 refugee
camps in Nepal.
EXPULSIONS : How & why ?
In 1990 the Bhutanese government (monarchy)
implemented harsh rules to enforce a depopulation and
ethnic cleansing policy.
Their aim - one people – one language – one religion – one
culture. The Bhutanese had to provide proof of 20 years
continuous residence in Bhutan and knowledge of the
language and culture of Northern Bhutanese communities.
As the Southern Bhutanese were mostly of Nepalese origin
and Hindu, they did not fit the criteria.
This lead to one of the largest ethnic (People of Nepali
origin) expulsions in the world. Most Lhotshampa or
Southern Bhutanese came to Nepal.
Basic Facts (2007)
• Refugee Population : 108,000 (Approx.)
• 95% : Lhotshampa or Southern
• Location : Seven Camps in Eastern
• Arrival in Nepal : Early 1990’s (most by
• Status in Nepal : Prima facie refugees
under UNHCR mandate.
Religion and Ethnicity (2007)
Hindu – largest group (60-70%)
Buddhists – (20-25%)
Kirat (indigenous) - (5-8%)
Christians – (2-3%)
Over 50 ethnic and caste groups in the camps (e.g.
Populations settled in camps along ethnic/caste
lines which play an important role in social and
History : flight & need for resettlement
1980’s : Bhutan adopts Bhutanization policies –limiting language, customs,
religion, and political parties.
1988 : Census conducted to identify “genuine Bhutanese.” Many of Nepalese
1988- 1990 : Demonstrations and protests in Southern Bhutan against new
policies. Leaders jailed. First refugees flee to India.
Oct 1990 : Bhutanese army fires upon demonstrations killing & wounding
1990-92 : Government closes schools, removes officials, and begins
confiscating land. Government forces many to sign “Voluntary Migration
Forms” before expulsion.
1993-95 : Refugee population at grows from first group of 40,000 to 80,000
as others flee and join relatives in Nepal.
June 2003 : Nepal/Bhutan discussions on repatriation stall after pilot
Bhutanese verification process finds only 2% of refugees are Bhutanese.
Bhutan will not let the people
return because they are not of pure
Bhutanese ethnic origin.
Nepal will not let them out of the
refugee camps and into the country
because they are Bhutanese.
As Nepal and Bhutan have yet to implement
any agreement on repatriation, many
Bhutanese refugees have since resettled to
North America, Europe and Australia under the
auspices of the Office of the United Nations
High Commissioner for Refugees.
Resettlement in 8 countries
Australia, Canada, Denmark, Netherlands, New
Zealand, Norway, United Kingdom &
United States of America
US ambassador to Nepal, Scott H
DeLisi, has revealed that there is no
fixed quota for the American
government for the resettlement of
Bhutanese refugees from Nepal.
“Initially, we proposed for 60,000
refugees for resettlement in our
country,” DeLisi informed while
addressing a programme at the
transit camp run by the International
Organisation for Migration (IOM)
Monday. “However, there is no cap
for the number of refugees to be
resettled.” (2010 Dec 13)
Scott H DeLisi
2008 : 5 thousand 320
2009 : 13 thousand 432
2010 : 12 thousand 363
2011 : 14 thousand 999
2012 : 15 thousand 70
2013 : 9 thousand 134
2014 : 8 thousand 434
2015 : 5 thousand 775
2016 : 5 thousand 817
Total : 90 thousand 364*
• The U.S. government's fiscal year begins on 1 October of the
previous calendar year and ends on 30 September of the year with
which it is numbered.