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Bhutan/Nepal Trapped by Inequality: Bhutanese Refugee Women in Nepal
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Bhutanese women, living as refugees in Nepal, many for more than a decade, confront not only the hardship of life in refugee camps, but also the injustice of gender-based violence and discrimination. Refugee women and girls have reported rape, sexual assault, polygamy, trafficking, domestic violence, and child marriage in the camps. Women suffering domestic violence are unable to obtain safety or their full share of humanitarian aid because of discriminatory refugee registration procedures and inadequate protection measures. The registration system also prevents married refugee women from applying for repatriation or rations independently and prohibits them from registering children not fathered by a refugee. More than one hundred thousand Nepali-speaking Bhutanese refugees live in seven refugee camps jointly administered by Nepal and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in southeastern Nepal. The refugees fled or were forcibly evicted from their homes in Bhutan in the early 1990s, when the Bhutanese government introduced highly discriminatory citizenship policies targeting the ethnic
Nepalese population. For twelve years, the government of Bhutan has asserted that the refugees are not Bhutanese nationals or are voluntary migrants who relinquished their citizenship when they left Bhutan. The governments of Bhutan and Nepal finally initiated a process for verifying and categorizing refugees in 2001. This process has drawn international criticism for lacking transparency, excluding UNHCR, and failing to assess refugees’ claims to Bhutanese citizenship fairly. In the camps, UNHCR and the government of Nepal have failed to protect refugee women’s rights adequately. A key source of this failure is the continued use of a registration and ration distribution system based on household cards listed under the name of the male household head. Human Rights Watch interviewed Bhutanese refugee women who had suffered domestic violence and who, despite having separated from their husbands, were not able to obtain their own rati on cards. These women encountered problems accessing rations meant to be shared within one household such as stoves, blankets, and soap. They were unable to obtain separate housing, leaving them to find refuge with other family members in already overcrowded huts or to create makeshift arrangements with partitions. The government of Nepal and UNHCR should act decisively to protect women from discrimination and violence, including by improving the response to domestic violence, amending the camp registration system, and promoting changes in Nepalese domestic law. These actions are not only important remedies for Bhutanese refugee women in Nepal, but also set an important precedent for the implementation of UNHCR guidelines addressing gender-based violence in refugee situations globally. Bhutan and Nepal must also resolve the refugee situation through a timely and fair process that adheres to international standards and protects rights of all refugees, including women and children. Both countries should ratify the 1951 Refugee Convention and other major international human rights treaties. This report is based on interviews with 112 refugees in following camps in Jhapa and Morang districts of southeastern Nepal during March and April 2003: Khudanabari, Beldangi I, Beldangi II, Timai, Goldhap, and Sanischare. Of these 112 interviews, thirty-seven were with refugees serving on elected camp management committees, members of refugee-run nongovernmental organizations operating in the camps, teachers, or health workers. Human Rights Watch conducted an additional thirty-eight interviews with concerned United Nations agencies and NGOs, including the Geneva, Kathmandu, and Bhadrapur offices of UNHCR, all the aid agencies working as implementing partners in the camps, UNICEF, refugee advocacy groups, and Nepalese NGOs.
UNHCR ,   (2003 )
Type / Script:
Progress Report in English
Thematic Group:
 UNHCR : Refugees and Migration
13.01.00  -  Protection Of And Assistance To Refugees And Displaced Persons
Reference Link:
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