Global Refugee Crisis and South Asia’s Geopolitics: The Case of the Bhutanese Refugees

Lopita Nath


The exodus of the Lhotshampas of ethnic Nepali descent from Bhutan since the 1990’s is another case of forced migration in South Asia. After 17 years in refugee camps in Nepal and failed negotiations by the United Nation High Commissioner of Refugees to repatriate the refugees back to Bhutan, third country resettlement became the only solution. Since 2008, 100,000 refugees have been resettled in the United States, Australia, Canada, U.K., Netherlands, with over 86, 000 in the United States. This paper seeks to examine the implications of South Asia’s Geopolitics on the creation and management of this refugee crisis which generated a lot of international attention and concern. The issues at stake were the legality of Bhutan’s citizenship policies, and the labeling of its bonafide citizens as illegal migrants, refusing repatriation and negotiation for a solution. This also raised the question of the refusal of India to offer asylum to the refugees when they entered India during their initial flight and failure to offer or even find a durable solution to the crisis. The third issue was the deliberate policy of Nepal at ‘warehousing’ the refugees and finally refusing local integration and insisting on repatriation as the only solution. While assessing the Bhutanese Refugee Crisis one cannot ignore the historic treaty relations of mutual cooperation, understanding and friendship between India, Bhutan and Nepal and the political and economic relations involved. This led to overtly magnifying a crisis that could have been resolved regionally and amicably. Were the Bhutanese refugees victims of South Asia’s geopolitics? The Bhutanese refugee crisis was the failure of South Asian countries to amicably resolve a domestic crisis leading to a gross human rights violation and adding to the refugee crisis of the 21st century.

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