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Slow movement towards a resolution

1993 The governments of Bhutan and Nepal establish a Ministerial Joint Committee (MJC) to verify the status of people in the refugee camps and work towards a resolution of the refugee problem. The first round of bilateral talks is held in Kathmandu. The MJC agrees to classifying the refugees into four categories:

1 Bonafide Bhutanese
2 Bhutanese who migrated "voluntarily"
3 Non-Bhutanese
4 Bhutanese who have committed criminal acts

1995 Southern Bhutanese activists based in the camps in Nepal establish the Appeal Movement Coordinating Council (AMCC).

1996 The AMCC launches a peace march from the refugee camps in Nepal to carry an appeal to the King of Bhutan. Successive waves of marchers are arrested by the Indian authorities. Some gain entry to Bhutan but are ejected by
Bhutanese security forces. All are pushed back into Nepal.

1998 In Bhutan, 429 relatives of "anti-nationals" are dismissed from government service.

1999 Bhutan submits its first report under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Tek Nath Rizal is granted an amnesty by the King of Bhutan and released from jail.

2000 In December, under increasing pressure from the international community to find a solution for the refugees, Bhutan and Nepal agree to commence a pilot screening of refugees in one camp.

2001 Between March and December, the 12,500 inhabitants of Khudunabari camp (about one eighth of the total refugee population in camps in Nepal) are screened by a joint Bhutanese/Nepalese verification team. No monitoring by UNHCR or any independent third party is allowed

2003 The results of the verification in Khudunabari are announced: 75% of those screened are found eligible to return to Bhutan. On December 22, the Bhutanese leader of the verification team spells out conditions of return to assembled refugees in Khudunabari camp.


Category 1 (293 people) may return to Bhutan as citizens, but not to their original houses and lands.

Category 2 (8,595 people) will have to reapply for citizenship under the terms of the 1985 Citizenship Act after a probationary period of two years spent in a closed camp.

Category 4 (347 people) include relatives of those to be charged with criminal acts. They will be detained in a designated camp.

The appeal process promised to review the classification of the 2,948 people placed in Category 3 is unilaterally cancelled. Refugees express their frustration and anger. In a scuffle, Bhutanese members of the verification team are injured. They return to Bhutan, and the process which was to lead to repatriation is halted.

2004 The Royal Government of Nepal carries out an investigation into the December 22 incident, and invites the Bhutanese to resume bilateral talks. No formal talks take place. No progress is made.

2005 and beyond ?

“There is a saying that many drops of water together make an ocean. Like that we must solve our refugee problem.”

Photograph taken by a Bhutanese child living in one of the Bhutanese refugee camps in Nepal.