Bhutan Crowns New King: Refugees Barely Remembered

On November 6th, the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan officially crowned a new King, who was appointed almost two years ago. The fifth Dragon King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck is an Oxford-educated 28-year-old and the eldest son of the fourth and previous Dragon King of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck. His coronation ceremony was attended by political heavyweights from neighboring India-including President Ms. Pratibha Patil and entertainers from Bollywood.

His Majesty, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck: Image by grassvalleybrent, used under a Creative Commons License

While Bhutan celebrated the coronation, the country and King Wangchuck barely remembered 100,000 ethnic Nepalese Bhutanese driven out by his father during the 1990s and now living as refugees in Nepal. In his message to the nation after assuming the throne, the new King promised to shield the country from “outside influence” but did not mention the refugees.

The region’s media was quick to pick up on the glaring omission. Taipei Times, India’s The Statesmen along with many others mentioned the refugee issue in their report on the coronation. Bloggers are also busy discussing the Bhutanese refugees living in Nepal.

Bhutan News, a non-partisan blog, informed just days before the coronation that the “refugees are in a state of flux”. Blogger Narayan Sharma expresses frustration over the long-overdue process of creating an environment where refugees can safely return to their homeland and blames Bhutan’s regime for the delay.

“Refugees’ hope of return has been lessened presently as the Druk regime has now the possibility to further procrastinate the issue with the new-found alibi of people’s representatives needing to decide the issue.”

Bibek Bhandari, a journalism student, wrote about the coronation and the refugee question for SAJAforum, mentioning the long history of ethnic Nepalese in Bhutan and that they were not exactly recent migrants.

“Approximately 103,000 Bhutanese Lhotshampas–descendants of Nepalese who moved to the southern lowlands of Bhutan in the nineteenth century–have been confined to several refugee camps in south-eastern Nepal since 1990. They have been forced to leave the country by the former monarch in the early 1990s during a campaign to impose compulsory national dress and ban the Nepalese language.”

Some bloggers are also discussing whether the recent decision to resettle the refugees in a third country will do any good and how moving to yet another foreign country might affect them.

At 510Report Adelaide Chen writes about the Bhutanese refugees resettled in Oakland, California who are trying to adjust to their new life in America by getting an education and learning English.

“Kharel and her sister are among the seven students from Bhutan attending the GED class several nights a week. She knows some of the other refugees, because they lived in the same camp for 17 years. Among the refugees from Bhutan that have accepted an offer to come to the U.S., few have expectations they will return to their homeland again.”

Maureen Sieh also writes about the refugees’ struggle to adjust to a new land. This time it is about those Bhutanese who have been resettling in Syracuse, New York.

“Hari Adhikari was a leader in one of the refugee camps. Now, he's helping Catholic Charities resettle some of the people he worked with in the refugee camps……He asks people if they have any problems with their apartments, budgeting and any other concerns they might have. He tells them that there are agencies here to help them, but they also have to be able to help themselves find jobs.”


  • Mixed blood

    It was indeed unfortunate to see what happened in the 90s in southern Bhutan and the vibrations that is felt till now, including the recent attack on the forest rangers in Phibsoo.
    I am sure the 90s problem didnt start without instigation from wither sides. There were flaws from both the sides. I hail form south and have relatives from both drukpa and the nepali sides. I feel sorry for what happened in the 90s for both sides of the party, but loath the actions and the direction some have taken to worsen the problem. Shouldnt we be thinking to solve the problem tha create more? The responsible people will have to answer, either in this world or the other but more that that, the Lhotshompas, who are living here will suffer immediately from their actions. As far as i remember the Bhutanese government was not baised in its favours towards the nepali settlers: they were provided with land, educations(incountry and abroad),government jobs,trainings,business opportunities, etc. The lhotsampas held very high posts (Om Pardhan was a minister) were among some of the most educated lots. Bhutanese government even paid money and gave away extra land if the drukpa and the lhotsampas inter-married. But there were a lot of people who were marrying from across the border and coming in to live in Bhutan and Bhutan, being a very small country could not and will not be able to accomodate that kind of luxury. Bhutan should be for the Bhutanese, either lhotosampas or the drukpas. A few people with selfish motives have destroyed the camaraderie among the drukpas and the lhotsampas and all others are getting dragged in. To those who have been going on planting bombs and killing people, i will say that if you value your principles of helping your brethrns then you are wrong. Your actions are effecting their lives for the worse.

  • Conscious Citizen

    The Phibsoo incident is but an asking by the RGOB. The government has long terrorized its citizens with impunity. Anything not reported in the media does not mean it does not exist. Bhutan shrewdly carries on its actions of State terrorism in a way it escapes media attention. But the southern Bhutanese know and have known the reality for decades.

    For seventeen years Bhutan has ignored the plea by the southerners to peacefully solve their problem. Each time they attempted to return home, Bhutan unnecessarily blamed them as anti-nationals and terrorists. Now, that the movement has turned real violent, the RGOB has its wishes fulfilled. The real question is, whether the Maoists will stop their actions at Phibsoo or will it expand elsewhere.

    Bhutan may drive home some sympathy from outsiders, but this is an internal affair that it has to tackle on its own. Bhutan could be dragged into a long drawn struggle with the Maoists. At the end, none of the parties will win anything. But Bhutan as a country will surely lose. A solution could always be worked outwithout waiting to see the worst. And for that, the RGOB has the onus to lead the Maoists into peace and reconciliation.

  • yudhisthir subedi

    Hi,I am Yudhisthir subedi, who was staying in Bel-I,Jhapa Nepal as a refugee for a decayed and now compel to choose the option of the third country resettlement.I am spending my life as it is with my partner and a son whom we want to educate well and send him to our motherland,BHUTAN to ask a few questions about his forefathers who used to rule over ‘NEOLI BHUTAN’ with the former king.
    It is SHAME to the present monster to celebrate the CORONATION DAY.Let us see what he will be asked to do by INDIA later.
    The president of India is also known about his slavery.So I would like to request all our Nepali people to be patient and see Bhutan as Sikkim and the king as Nar Bdr. or
    Chamling. HAPPY NEW YEAR- 2 0 0 1 1

  • jigme singye wangchuk

    bhutan king is bad and wrost amoung all the kings got it !

  • NAMASKAR !! Yah,the world knows that we are ethnic Bhutanese citizen by looking at our face.We are enjoying looking at the senseless drama,where Jigme Khesar Namgyel
    Wangchuk, the president and prime minister of India and some of our Nepali fool leaders are acting seriously to disolve us by any means.Wa…Wa…how long will you do so?We are (Bhutanese society)in most of part of this world now.We are learning,
    realizing,thinking,enjoying and doing what we prefer but not forgeting our mother land
    Bhutan.Thanks to IOM for the transportation and all the services given to us to shape
    our lost life and future.I would like to remind all Bhutanese Society not to forget to tackle on our issue to this world of honour and let the world knows the sorrow of our
    parents while leaving the property in Bhutan and live as a beggar in Nepal.

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