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BHUTAN: Playing with the lives of poor refugees: Update 32.


Note No. 189                                                  03.07.2003

by Dr. S. Chandrasekharan 

Where is the place where the voice of the refugees can be heard?

"‘Refugee’ the so called homeless, hopeless, stateless and what else if the medium of being themselves is aimless." -- Bhutanese refugees from the camps.

On June 18, the full details of the verification of the Kudanabari camp were published. It has taken both Bhutan and Nepal twelve years and fourteen sittings of the joint verification teams to produce details of hardly twelve percent of the refugees. One need not hazard a guess as to how long it would take to complete the verification of all the hundred thousand refugees languishing in camps.

The results had no surprises- this includes the betrayal perpetrated on the refugees by both Bhutan and Nepal. It had been our stand that Bhutan had from the beginning decided not to take any refugee back. When forced to negotiate, it decided on an ingenious method of delaying the process as much as possible and the gullible Nepali side agreed to categorise the refugees into four groups and then came the delaying tactics of harmonisation. Prime facie, the bulk of the refugees have been treated as non citizens and they are expected to re apply for citizenship. As one commentator had aptly put it- the refugees have been short changed.

The official results:


Of the total of 12183 refugees verified only 293 people of 74 families ( 2.4 percent) were categorised as Bhutanese citizens

8995 people of 2182 families ( 70.55 percent) have been categorised as the ones who left their country willingly.

2948 people of 817 families (24.2 percent) belong to the Non Bhutanese category

347 people of 85 families (2.88 percent) belong to the category of people having criminal background.



First, there is the admission that 75.80 percentage of refugees were Bhutanese citizens when the ethnic cleansing pogrom of Bhutan started. Of these, the first category- by Bhutan government’s own admission, around 2000 persons ( if the percentage is extended to all the camps) have been unlawfully driven out and made to suffer for twelve years. These refugees have a right to go to court to seek compensation.

Second relates to the class of people who were said to have willingly renounced their citizenship. Greatest injustice has been done to this class of people. We have in the past given examples of people who were coerced to sign forms in Dzhongka which many never understood and were not even allowed to take their belongings. The legal position of people who left their homes in an environment of turmoil and violence has been examined earlier and these people have a right to return. It is illegal and immoral to demand of this category of the refugees to seek readmission as citizens which has other implications. If Bhutanese laws do not permit them to be taken as citizens, the laws could be amended specifically for this purpose. But the idea appears to be different. Bhutan wants to create as many difficulties as possible so that these people remain in Nepal.

We have in the previous update discussed the implications of those coming under this category and our fears have been confirmed by the distribution of terms of reference of this category by the Bhutanese representatives of the joint verification team A copy of the reference with the application forms is given in Appendix.

Re-application would attract Article 4 of the Bhutan Citizenship Act, whereby the refugees will have to wait in a "state of stalelessness" for twenty years. They are to be on two years probation and their good conduct is to be certified by the very same agencies who in the first place drove them out ruthlessly. Once inside Bhutan, they will be at the mercy of Bhutan government until they get their full rights as citizens.

It is said that the Nepalese delegation has been assured by their Bhutanese counterparts that the requirement for re-applicaiton is a "mere formality". Apparently the Nepalese delegation has swallowed this line. Weren’t they aware that the Bhutanese officials had distributed papers which give many conditionalities? How can private assurances be accepted and how can one play with the lives of the refugees?

The offer of citizenship by Nepal to those not willing to return is rather intriguing. While no one could question the rights of individuals to choose their citizenship and that of countries to accept them, in this specific case, one should go into the history of the refugee problem and examine the conditions back in Bhutan which made them refugees. Will Nepal agree to accept all those of Nepali origin who could be evicted from other countries? Is not Nepal shooting itself on its foot, when Bhutan has created such conditions for repatriation and eventual resettlement, that no sane individual would like to go back?

The basic issue is whether those under category 2, that is, those who were supposed to have left "willingly" their homes, gardens, orchards, lands and seek shelter in an unknown place under thatched sheds, were citizens at the time of eviction. The JVT has given the categorical decision that they were citizens. The fact they were coerced by the Bhutanese authorities to leave their homes is well documented and that  it is now for the refugees in the Kudenabari camp to record the circumstances under which they left and if necessary take the help of international agencies.

Third, the entire verification process has been done in secrecy. There was no refugee representation during verification or during categorisation and harmonisatioin. Those coming under categories 3- Non Bhutanese and 4. those with criminal background have a right to know how they have been placed under these categories.

The 15th ministerial joint committee is meeting in Thimpu from August 11-14 to discuss the verification  of other camps. The injustice done to the refugees in the Kudenabari camp is likely to be continued.

There is need for the international agencies to play an active role in getting the refugees their dues and return to their country with honour and dignity. Instead, we find a statement from UNHCR country chief Abraham Abraham on July 1, that aid to the Bhutanese refugees may be stopped! This would amount to saying -Accept what Bhutan and Nepal have decided for you or else starve.


Terms of reference for Refugee Repatriation

Updated on July 02, 2003 

(The Bhutanese members of the Joint Verification Team ( JVT)  unilaterally distributed the following Terms of Reference for the repatriation of Bhutanese refugees of Khudunabari camp, after the declaration of the results of verification and categorization on June 18, 2003. However, the Nepalese members of the JVT reportedly have not accepted this Terms of Reference – Editors.) 


  1. Re-application for Bhutanese citizenship is permitted under the 1977 Citizenship Act of Bhutan and  the Amendments to the 1985 Citizenship Act as passed by the National Assembly in 1988. Article NGA-1 of the Bhutan Citizenship Act 1977 states that “In case of Bhutanese citizen, who having left the country returns and applies for citizenship, the Royal Government shall keep the applicant on probation for a period of at least 2 years. On successful completion of the probation period, the applicant will be granted citizenship provided the person in question is not responsible for any against the Royal Government. “. As per clause-5 of the Amendment to the 1985 Citizenship Act, “Bhutanese nationals who have earlier emigrated from the country are permitted to apply for citizenship provided that they have clearly stated the reasons for their departure and approval of the government has been accorded. Those who have emigrated without prior approval of the government shall no be entitled to citizenship on their return”. During the 12th MJC, ( Nepal-Bhutan Ministerial Joint Committee meeting – Eds.) the Royal Government agreed that, in a liberal interpretation of the Bhutanese Citizenship and Immigration Laws, people falling under Category 2 (Bhutanese who emigrated) and desiring to return, will be given the option to re-apply for citizenship.
  2.  People falling under category 2 who want to avail of the option to re-apply for Bhutanese citizenship will have to come to Bhutan to present their application as required by the law.
  3. In accordance with Bhutan’s citizenship laws, the Royal Government will have to keep the applicants on probation for period of at least 2 years.
  4. During the probation period, the applicants will be issued with a special identity card (Special Re-Application Card) and provided employment for their livelihood.
  5. All procedures for re-application shall be conducted at designated offices of the Registration Department, Ministry of Home Affairs within Bhutan. The applicants shall apply by duly filling the forms KA-(A) and KA-(B).
  6. The applicants shall indicate their agreement to abide by terms and conditions for re-applications of Bhutanese citizenship by signing form KA-(C).





All repatriation activities shall be conducted on a voluntary basis. Any family or members of the family falling under category 1 choosing not to return to Bhutan shall not be repatriated on compulsion against their wish.

 On the basis of the application for repatriation, the JVT will compile a list of persons under category 1 who wish to be repatriated to Bhutan. These persons shall be shall be repatriated under the first phase of the repatriation exercise. 

The members of the JVT should accompany the people up to the Indo-Bhutan border, The Royal Government of Bhutan shall take over the people from the border according to the list and thereafter it shall be the responsibility  of the Ministry of Home Affairs. 

Restoration of the citizenship

The citizenship status of these people shall be restored fully on arrival in the Kingdom through census registration and issuance of the Citizenship Identity Card by the Department of Registration. 

Interim arrangement before the settlement

The Royal government of Bhutan will provide the people with employment until they are settled.

 Settlement  and allotment of farming land.

 People who had left the country without selling their land shall be compensated with free allotment of land equivalent to their registration record. 

  1.  receipt of the duly completed re-application forms and if these have been found to be in order, the concerned persons will be registered for re-application for Bhutanese citizenship.
  2. On registration, a Special Re-Application Card (SRC) will be issued by the Registration Department to the concerned persons.




The Hon’ble Home Minister,

Ministry of Home Affairs,

Tashichho Dzong,



I have the honour to re-apply for the Bhutanese citizenship according to Article NGA 1 of the Bhutanese Citizenship Act, 1977. 

In the event that my re-application for Bhutanese Citizenship is approved by the Royal Government of Bhutan. I am prepared to take Oath Allegiance pledging my full loyalty and devotion to the King, Country & people of Bhutan. I am also prepared to faithfully abide by all the laws of Bhutan and to perform all the duties required of a faithful subject to His Majesty the King of Bhutan.

 The Form KA-B and C duly filled in a are submitted here with. 

Yours faithfully,

(Signature of application)

Name of applicant………………………………….

(Stamp for Nu. 100/-)……………………………...

Date and place……………………………………..




Passport size photograph 

  1. Name of applicant
  2. Date of Birth
  3. Place of Birth
  4. Address
  5. Education qualification
  6. Profession
  7. Identification mark. If any
  8. Name of father
  9. Name of mother
  10. Reason(s) for re-applying for Bhutanese citizenship
  11. If married:
  12. Name of husband/wife
  13. Date of birth of husband/wife
  14. Whether husband/wife is a Bhutanese Citizen
  15. Place and date of issue of Marriage Certificate
  16. Particular of each children with birth certificate attached:
    SN. Name Sex Date of Birth




  1. All members of a family must be physically present at the designated office while submitting the re-application forms.
  2. A member of a family cannot apply on behalf of the other family members who are in the camps.
  3. An individual form on the camp cannot apply for family members form other camps.
  4. The minimum period of probation will be at-least 2 years.
  5. The re-applicant must reside in the country for the entire period of the probation.
  6. He/she must not be engaged in activities that contravene the laws of the country.
  7. He/she must be able to speak Dzongkha.
  8. He/she must have good knowledge of the culture, customs, traditions and history of Bhutan.
  9. The re-applicants shall not be associated with activities of any anti-national organization/individuals.
  10. The persons must have no record of having spoken or acted against the King, Country and People of Bhutan in any manner whatsoever.
  11. If  the conduct of the applicant is found satisfactory at the end of the probation period, he/she may granted the citizenship in accordance with the Citizenship Laws (Fulfillment of the criteria).

In testimony of having read and accepted the terms and conditions laid above, I hereby affix my signature on  the date place mentioned hereunder