Bhutanese refugees started to enter Nepal in the early 1990s following the enforcement of restrictive citizenship laws by the Government of Bhutan. In 1992, UNHCR and WFP, at the request of the Government of Nepal, started providing food, shelter, and non-food assistance. In 1993, the Government of Nepal and Bhutan initiated negotiations to find solutions for the Bhutanese refugees living in Nepal. However, no progress has been made in either repatriating the 108,000 refugees to Bhutan or integrating them in Nepal.
After years of uncertainty, an impasse over the status of Nepal’s Bhutanese refugees may be drawing towards a conclusion. In 2008, the Government of Nepal finally agreed to consider third country resettlement as a viable option for the refugees. With pressure from Australia, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, the United States of America and New Zealand, the Government of Nepal agreed to allow refugees to resettle in the above mentioned countries. While some of the refugees may choose to stay in Nepal, or hold out hoping that Bhutan may eventually agree for some to return, the majority of the refugees are likely to be resettled in the above mentioned countries. As of October 2008, approximately 5,000 people had already resettled to seven countries. Over the next five years, 15,000 to 20,000 refugees per year are expected to be resettled in a third country.
With a population of 28 million people, Nepal is a food deficit country in the process of establishing a new Government after an 11-year civil war. Being one of the poorest countries in South Asia, it ranks 142 out of 177 countries in the Human Development Index. Yet, in spite of its own tremendous challenges, Nepal has always provided support and protection to the Bhutanese refugees. In April 2008 a new Government was formed. However, many of the underlying socio-economic causes of the conflict have yet to be addressed leaving much of the population facing crisis-like conditions.
Rising costs and access to food and livelihoods pose significant challenges for the newly elected Government which continues to focus much of its efforts on strengthening its coalition and nation building. Price increases have sparked protests across the country. Fuel shortages are expected to be even more frequent as the Government continues to lose billions of rupees each month on fuel imports from India. These dynamics also have a direct impact on WFP’s ability to provide support to the refugees. In some instances, communities around the camps simply do not understand why they are not also receiving WFP assistance.
WFP and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have regularly carried out joint assessment missions (JAM) since the beginning of the operation. The findings of the latest JAM, conducted in June 2008, constitute the basis for this new phase of the protracted relief and recovery operation (PRRO). The 2008 JAM found that the camps continue to be well managed. In January 2007, WFP assumed the responsibility of the management of food distribution previously handled by UNHCR. The JAM noted that the refugees remain entirely reliant upon external assistance for their daily subsistence, and recommended continued support.
This two-year PRRO is in line with WFP’s Strategic Plan for 2008-2011 and follows the organization’s vision, mission and strategic objectives, mainly in saving lives and reducing hunger (Strategic Objective 1) and reducing chronic hunger and undernutrition (SO 4). Approximately, 102,000 refugees in seven camps will benefit from WFP food assistance programmes in 2009.
This number is expected to reduce to 81,000 refugees in 2010. An estimated 2,500 malnourished children, pregnant and lactating women (PLW) as well as chronically ill patients will receive additional assistance under a supplementary feeding programme in 2009. This caseload is expected to go down to 2,000 in 2010. WFP will continue to support supplementary activities including vocational training, home gardens and income-generating activities that promote self-sufficiency among the refugee population. WFP will also continue to ensure the active participation of women refugees in the management and distribution of food. This PRRO will continue to complement the activities of UNHCR, the Government and non-governmental organization (NGO) partners.