Since 2007, thousands of Bhutanese refugees have been leaving squalid camps in eastern Nepal and departing for new homes in the West. Though the older generation has long aspired to return to Bhutan, many younger refugees are excited to move to Western countries.
Of the seven camps, only two remain. They house 34,350 people, according to the UN’s refugee agency, and some 76 percent of them are interested in resettlement.
Tens of thousands of ethnic-Nepali Bhutanese were displaced in the 1990s after Bhutan’s government launched a “one nation-one people” policy, which many described as an ethnic cleansing project. For the two decades that followed, about 105,000 people lived in the refugee camps in eastern Nepal. About 40 percent were children. Neither Bhutan nor Nepal was willing to accept them as full citizens.
In 2007, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees started the “third country resettlement” policy. Australia, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States all began accepting the refugees. According to the UNHCR, 69,424 Bhutanese refugees have so far been resettled in the US, with 5,563 in Canada.
Recent reports, however, say the American dream might have turned sour for the Bhutanese refugees. A 2012 report by the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that the rate of suicide among Bhutanese refugees is 20.3 per 100,000 people – higher than the global average of 16 per 100,000 people.
A 2014 report, Invisible Newcomers, explains some of the challenges faced by Bhutanese and Burmese refugees, who make up the two largest groups of recent refugee arrivals in the US.
These photos document life inside the camps. Many refugees have left this life behind, while those remaining patiently wait for their turn to leave.