The Bhutanese Refugee Crisis

How to cite this journal: Author, Date of the post, WMO Conflict Insight, Title of the post, ISSN:

According to Erdmann, conflict means two or more viewpoints, attitudes, expectations, or strategic approaches collide. Conflicts are a part of human relationships, on personal, industrial, community, national, or international levels. A dispute is a normal part of life and found in political parties, friendships, relationships, family, church, and social organizations. Some conflicts are open; some are hidden. Additionally, a conflict is a chance for change and can lead to a more productive future. Every battle is unique in its structure. Core problems and minor problems need to be identified. Often, finding the core reason for conflict can be challenging and time-consuming. Reaching the core conflict can cause feelings like discomfort or stress among the parties. Therefore, setting an external framework of rules before starting the process is critical (Erdmann 2018).

More than 100,000 Nepali-speaking Bhutanese people were forced out of Bhutan between 1990 and 1993. Many of the refugees are staying in camps there to date. The conflict between Bhutan and Nepal is not entirely resolved, and restorative justice remains a hope (Schultz 2016). Mindfulness as a tool might be added value to overcome the conflict.

This report will give a brief introduction to the refugee crisis of Nepali-speaking people from Bhutan. Furthermore, mindful questions for the conflict parties for reflection will be developed, which should help the reader to analyze the conflict critically. Also, a short personal conclusion will be given.


Amnesty International calls the refugee crisis of Bhutan ‘one of the most neglected refugee crises in the world’ (Schultz 2016). In the early 1990s, the government of Bhutan felt increasingly threatened by the growing ethnic Nepali community in Bhutan. The country adopted in the 1980s a ‘One Nation, One People’ policy, defending the culture and political dominance of ethnic Bhutanese people. As a part of this policy, teaching Nepali as a language for ethnic Nepali children was banned in Bhutan. Nepali people were, from then on, forced to wear the traditional Bhutanese Drukpa dress. As a result, many Nepali Bhutanese communities started anti-government protests. Therefore, the Government of Bhutan reacted with imprisonments of demonstrators. Human Rights Watch found out that many cases of ethnic Nepali people were tortured in prisons in Bhutan. Government militant forces destroyed houses of Nepali Bhutanese people. Communities were forced to leave their home and abused in different ways.

Some Nepali Bhutanese claim that most of their protests were peaceful; however, some turned violent. Ethnic Nepali people have been living in Bhutan for generations; nevertheless, their land was taken away. To date, more than 18,000 Nepali Bhutanese refugees live in camps in Nepal (Schultz 2016).

In the mid-1980s, additionally, the Government of Nepal passed a citizenship law, which forms the basis to declare Nepali Bhutanese people as non-nationals of Nepal. Many of the refugees in the camps are resettled in other countries with the support of UNHCR (European Resettlement Network 2013).


The behavior of the Government of Bhutan, the Government of Nepal, and the ethnic Nepali people in Bhutan can be critically reflected with a focus on mindfulness. I believe that all actors did not act mindfully throughout the ongoing conflict. Therefore, mindful questions should be asked as a tool of reflection and shared understanding.

The Government of Bhutan could ask itself: – Why do we, as a government, not want the Nepali Bhutanese communities to live in Bhutan? – Where are the cultural differences between Bhutanese and ethnic Nepali people living in Bhutan? – Why do we perceive them as a threat to ‘our’ culture? What is ‘our’ culture, and where does it come from? – What is an appropriate reaction to protests against the laws implemented against the ethnic Nepali people? – Why do ethnic Nepali people think that they are Bhutanese? – Are there factors for the government’s behavior related to socialization, upbringing, or other personal factors? If so, how do these factors influence the government? – Is our acting according to Buddhism?

The Government of Nepal could ask itself: – How can we treat the Nepali Bhutanese people in our country fairly?

The ethnic Nepali people of Bhutan could ask themselves: – How should the protest look like? – Was our form of protest in Bhutan appropriate? What could we have done differently? – What was our motive? Which factors influence our behavior?


Analyzing the Bhutanese refugee crisis with a focus on mindfulness is a beneficial tool for conflicting parties to reflect their behavior, but also to understand the other stakeholders’ perspectives better. It is not up to me to judge who was right or wrong. Still, in my viewpoint, the Bhutanese minority with Nepali ethnicity have significantly suffered and justice is not foreseeable. I think this example can almost be called ethnic cleansing, similar to the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar. Governments urgently need to rethink their behavior: the Nepali government treat refugees with respect and ensuring equity, while the Bhutanese governments need to understand that protests against a law that is perceived discriminatory can not be responded to with killing, torture, and deprivation of land.


Erdmann, Daniel. “Section: B) – Syllabus 3 – World Mediation Organization.” 2018. Accessed March 16, 2020.

European Resettlement Network. “Bhutanese Refugees in Nepal | European Resettlement Network.” 2013. Accessed March 16, 2020.

Schultz, Erika. “Bhutanese Refugee Crisis: A Brief History,” 2016. Accessed March 16, 2020.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Matias Linder

    Thanks for this article Tobias, I find very informing and bringing to the light a forgotten cause. You really do not hear anything about this conflict. Actually, when reading it, I remembered a documentary that I saw about this conflict many years ago. And then my brain completely forgot about it.
    You have put great questions. I am curious to know what the answers could be.

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