About how the Bhutanese refugees community caters for itself.
Over the past few days a process rarely seen unfolded itself. On March 22, only six weeks ago, the Goldhap and Sanischare refugee camps in Jhapa and Morang districts of Nepal were struck by separate fire mishaps that happen there frequently during the Nepal dry season. Only this time on a devastating scale leaving the Goldhap camp destroyed for 90% and the Sanischare camp for around 20%.
Over 5,000 refugees living in an extremely vulnerable position were, again, victimized. Exiled from Bhutan by ethnic cleansing twenty years ago they still live in dire conditions in those two districts. They have been disregarded as citizens by Bhutan, not allowed to integrate in Nepali society and “contained” in camps by the international community. They are without a clear future except for the only option to resettle to one of the resettlement countries in the west leaving friends and family behind and entering in a life living in global diaspora. All of the seven refugee camps are risky places to live.
Not only because of the effects of so many people living in a cramped space (like the over 20,000 living on the 40 hectares of Sanischare) but also because of the way these camps are built and their locations. Partial flooding during the monsoon and fires during the dry season are obvious risks and without the sufficient care given by organizations like Caritas, AMDA and UNHCR, these people would probably also suffer from outbreaks of diseases and other misfortune. Their troubles are many.
On May 10 and 12, a group of young journalists from the Bhutan Media Society (BMS), volunteers of camp based organisations including the BRAIN (Bhutanese Refugees Association of Intellectual Novas), Youth Friendly Center (Caritas), camp management committee and Nepali well-wishers visited both the Goldhap and Sanischare camps to handover donations resulting from an internet aid campaign organized during April. The whole process was performed in the utmost transparency, everyone spending more than seven hours without eating anything.
Who will thank these people ? All measures were taken to guarantee that every fire victim received his or hers donation. Which, by the way, were was much more than the astonishing low contributions from the Nepali government (which donated only a mere 1500 NPR per hut with an average of over six people per hut).
The Bhutanese refugee community worldwide obviously donated their fellow refugees wholeheartedly. Even non-resident Nepalis from Australia became a part of the sorrow the refugees have been living with for over a month. The aid campaign for the Goldhap and Sanischare fire victims found its conclusion during these days with every individual receiving an equal share of financial support and goods. It showed once more the strength of these people living against all odds in the refugee camps and global diaspora. But, it also showed the lack of interest from the international community for these people because the truth of the matter is that they mostly have to cater for themselves, even when disaster strikes.
Alice Verheij is a Dutch writer and filmmaker currently working for the Empowerment Foundation NGO on a documentary about the Bhutanese refugees in Nepal and the Netherlands