ECHO Visits Bhutanese Refugee Camps In Eastern Nepal

Representatives of the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO), accompanied by WFP staffs, during a visit to the Bhutanese Refugee Camp in Jhapa district in eastern Nepal in December 2013.

Photos: WFP/Deepesh Shrestha

Representatives from the European Commission for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO) visited the Bhutanese Refugee Camps in Jhapa district in Eastern Nepal to assess the overall living conditions of the refugees. ECHO has been one of the key and consistent donors to food assistance programmes for the Bhutanese refugees in Nepal.

DAMAK - "The overall impression is one of satisfaction. The services are being delivered to the people who need them in a very proper way," said Simon Horner, ECHO Adviser for Operational Coordination with Field Network.

During a two-day mission, the delegates from ECHO met with refugee families, refugee leaders, representatives from various UN agencies and local government authorities to talk about the activities and the current challenges in the camps.

The ECHO delegation included Marco Capurro, Desk Officer for Nepal and Bangladesh, Beatriz Garcia-Rodriguez, Operational Assistant from Brussels, Samuel Marie-Fanon, South Asia Rapid Response Coordinator, and Piush Kayastha, Programme Officer from ECHO’s Office in Nepal.

Thousands of Bhutanese refugees living in bamboo huts have been receiving food rations from WFP for the past 20 years. The refugees are entirely dependent on external assistance to meet their daily food needs. Pregnant women, mothers and young children living in the campss also receive supplementary portions of Super Cereal and micronutrient powder to prevent cases of malnutrition.

Bhutanese refugees started arriving in Nepal in the early 1990s. A total of 107,807 refugees were registered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as a result of a joint verification process conducted with the Government of Nepal in 2007.

In the latter part of that year, the Government of Nepal, in collaboration with UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), provided the refugees with the option of resettling in another country (“Third Country Resettlement”) – seeing this as the most durable solution. Since then, nearly 85,000 refugees have been resettled - most of them in the United States, followed by Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Norway, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.

"With the resettlement process on the way, the camps is getting empty, so there is more space for people to move, which is very good. Thanks also to WFP’s interventions, people are massively engaged in vegetable and home gardening," said Samuel Marie-Fanon, after seeing vegetable gardens blooming. The harvests from these gardens allow the refugees to eat fresh vegetables.

Besides providing food rations, WFP has been supporting a number of activities to complement the other needs of the refugees like vocational training and micro-loan schemes for both the refugees and their host communities.

At present, there are around 30,000 refugees living in the camps. UNHCR estimates that less than 10,000 refugees will be left in the camps by the end of 2016. Despite the reduction in numbers, the refugee population remaining in the camps is still in need of external support to make their ends meet.  

“One of the basic elements of ECHO’s strategy is to ensure that crises which are forgotten are not neglected. We have the commitment to the so called forgotten crises because we know that different situation in different parts of the world attract different fund demands. In the past we have been in the position to help vulnerable people whose plight are relatively unknown. In that context, obviously, we keep that commitment high in our minds when we look to the situation here,” explained Horner.

ECHO also praised the inter-agency cooperation among various agencies in the camps.

"There is a good level of interaction. All the different components of interventions of UNHCR, WFP, IOM and the NGOS are all very complementary," said Marie-Fanon. "All the agencies have a strong commitment and dedication. The level of communication and the quality of the communication with the authorities is also good. Overall, it is a well managed refugee intervention."

“ECHO’s support has been instrumental in providing much needed food assistance to Bhutanese refugees in Nepal who are living in difficult circumstances,” said Marco Cavalcante, WFP Nepal’s Head of Programme. “Their timely contribution over the years has helped boost the food security and nutrition of vulnerable refugees.”

In 2013, ECHO provided US$1.32 million to WFP to support the refugee operations in the country.