The story of refugee education among the Bhutanese refugees in Nepal begins with their arrival at Maidhar river bank in eastern Nepal in early 1991. The Bhutanese were forcefully evicted from their country under the ethnic cleansing policy of the Druk regime. While they were finding shelter under the plastic tents and huts constructed out of the bamboo sheets, some parents took the initiative to continue the education of their children. In 1994 a local NGO in Nepal took over education program contract from UNHCR. Since then, this NGO continued to regulate the refugee education in all seven camps in Jhapa and Morang districts of Nepal.
The Here and Now
In 2011 many of the refugee camps have been closed and many refugees have left Nepal through a special immigration program within which they received permanent citizenship in countries like Australia and Denmark. However, around 60.000 refugees are still living in the camps. While initially Nepal did not feel much responsibility towards them, in recent years there has been a change of perspective. Different ministries started working together and, with the help of UNHCR, they came up with a plan to resettle the refugees by integrating them in the communities around. This plan is called the Community Based Development Programme.
One of the ministries to work on this program is the Ministry of Education. The Ministry of Education is responsible for integrating the refugee children into the schools in the communities. The schools in these communities are not equipped to receive such a big amount of children and therefore many changes are needed. Not only in the amount of teachers, the quality of education and in school infrastructure but also in the fear and prejudice that children and teachers have towards the Bhutanese children enrolling in their school. Together with UNICEF and UNHCR the Ministry of Education is now exploring means of ‘Peace and Integration Education’ for these children.
As a VSO volunteer working in the ministry it is exciting to be facilitating the initial stages of this project and to bring the Ministry of Education and UNHCR closer together in their working relationship. Let’s hope that this amazing project will continue and that these Bhutanese refugees will feel welcome and receive quality education in their new communities.