Mr A. Writinghawk (writinghawk) wrote,
Mr A. Writinghawk
writinghawk

In the camp

The next day we visit a village close to the town where four brothers of S's and their families live, which is very beautiful and where I meet many excellent people and see many wonderful things of which time, however, is too short to speak. I stay the night while S zooms off to take care of some things. He reappears next morning and takes me off to a local beauty area, a steep river valley whose name I have remembered, perhaps wrongly, as Khudi.

On the way back we stop in Beldangi, a camp for Bhutanese refugees. No photograph, except perhaps an aerial one, could convey the vast area it covers, filled with an endless grid of wooden huts set unhealthily close together. The expulsion of over 100,000 ethnic Nepalis from the south of Bhutan in the 1990s is the shameful blot on that country's recent history. The great majority had no papers, and the Bhutanese authorities used this as a pretext to claim they were illegal immigrants; a small proportion probably were, but most not. Bhutan and Nepal have never agreed on their status and while many have been resettled in third countries, tens of thousands are left.

Here and there along the roadside are some little stalls and cafes, and we stop for a cup of tea, before I pluck up the courage to approach a group of residents and speak to them. One woman with reasonable English says she was 13 when her family had to come here - she looks perhaps 40. They are from Gelephu in the south of Bhutan. Some accounts of the expulsions say that the Lhotsampa had remained culturally Nepali leading to ethnic tensions, so it is interesting that she tells me she had to learn Nepali when she arrived, previously speaking only Dzongka and some English. All the Dzongka I can remember is 'Kuzuzangpo la', and they all nod and smile happily, and then from my description help me remember the name of the region of Bhutan where I lived for three months.

She tries to sound an optimistic note: at first the refugees had many problems but now things are all right. A younger man, says that he was a year old when he came here, contradicts her: there are still many problems. Without papers, the refugees can neither get work in Nepal nor travel ouside it. (These two are both volunteering in a UN health centre within the camp.) They get rice rations from the UNHCR, but these are only about half what they used to be. (They tell me the numbers in kilograms per week, which I have forgotten.) I ask what they think should be done. 'We still hope Bhutan will let us back,' the man tells me.

*

That evening is taken up with mournful farewells since I'm leaving early next morning to get the bus back to Kathmandu. S is returning to Maldives in a few days, but not through Kathmandu, so gives me my last scary motorbike lift into Urlabari through the cold morning fog.
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