Nepali Times Asian Paints
Nation
No refuge when refugees leave


MARCUS BENIGNO in JHAPA


PICS: MARCUS BENIGNO
LEAVING THE PAST BEHIND: Refugee children peer through their bamboo home in Beldangi, while their family awaits emigration.
News reports last week heralded the third country resettlement of the 50,000th Bhutanese refugee 20 years after being driven out of their homeland and living in camps in eastern Nepal.

The government and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are closing and consolidating the camps as some of the remaining 63,000 refugees prepare to leave. Locals who depend on the camps for business and jobs now have to seek refuge elsewhere. Nearly 700 families were relocated to Beldangi and Sanischare from Goldhap in eastern Jhapa in June. Goldhap, the fifth and smallest of the camps which housed 4,600 refugees since 1990, is now a vacant lot.

The Goldhap camp is now a vacant lot while the street outside Beldangi camp is full of money transfer offices.
The Jhapa district administration is planning to develop Goldhap into a "botanical garden" that in theory would generate tourism income. But Lilamaya Upreti, a local tenant farmer, is not optimistic.

For seven years Upreti and her family have lived off the main road leading into the Goldhap entrance. "When the camp was here, there was a market and it was good for us," Upreti told Nepali Times. "They helped us when we had floods and we helped them when they had fires."

A fire in March razed nearly all the refugee huts in Goldhap. Refugee Chiranjibi Rai says when the fire trucks finally came their tanks were empty. "Luckily, the locals and the Nepal Army on guard helped," he said.

Lilamaya Upreti and her daughter-in-law Sumitra are worried about the loss of business after the refugees leave.
In 1990-91 more than 100,000 refugees were driven out of Bhutan and they have lived in camps in eastern Nepal ever since. But for some 350,000 Nepalis living outside, the camps have brought jobs and business. Drivers run transport services, farmers sell crops, and shopkeepers sell wares, run money transfer systems or operate cyber cafes.

A local mobile charging shop will lose customers when the camp closes.
Because electricity is not available in the camps (UNHCR does not consider it a "basic need") refugees pay to charge their mobile phones and electronic devices at charging posts outside the camps. It is Rs 10 for a full charge on a mobile. Locals provide refugees communication, mobility and access to the world beyond the camps.

But when the final refugees left Goldhap, so did the markets and public transport. Of the remaining four camps, two others are scheduled to close: Timai by the end of the year and Khudunabari in 2012.

"We are here to take care of refugees, but the government and other UN agencies are planning community development activities around the camps benefiting the remaining refugees and the host community," said Stephane Jaquemet, UNHCR country representative in Kathmandu.

As refugees leave and locals wait, there is doubt that the government and international donors will respond. Said Upreti: "We're waiting but always only the local leaders benefit. For us common people, we get nothing."

A refugee child peers into a hut that runs a tv on bootleg electricity.
Elderly refugee keeps alive his traditional weaving knowhow.

Read also:
Those who want to stay, GOPAL GARTAULA in JHAPA
Bhampa Rai was a royal physician before being driven out of Bhutan. Unlike most refugees, he doesn't want to be resettled in America or Europe.

Home away from home



LATEST ISSUE
638
(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)


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