India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Bhutan
What are the major challenges for refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the region?
Tibetan Refugees: Since the Dalai Lama fled China in 1959, a continuous flow of Tibetans have left China seeking asylum in Nepal, India, Bhutan and elsewhere, leading to a population of over 120,000 Tibetans currently living in settlements throughout South Asia. Through the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM), as well as the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.S. government provides support to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to carry out humanitarian assistance activities for Tibetan refugees in South Asia. However, the numbers of Tibetans departing China has dropped from 2,156 in 2007 to 211 as of October 31, 2012. Additionally, the government of China has increased pressure on the government of Nepal to curtail the activities of Tibetans within Nepal. PRM continues to work to ensure that Tibetan asylum seekers are not returned involuntarily to China and to enhance protection for Tibetan refugees resident in Nepal and elsewhere.
Bhutanese Refugees: The U.S. government supports camps in southeastern Nepal that host approximately 42,000 Bhutanese refugees through contributions to UNHCR, the World Food Program (WFP), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and NGOs. As of October 31, more than 73,012 Bhutanese refugees from these camps have been resettled in the United States, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, and the United Kingdom since resettlement started in 2007, of which 61,000 have been resettled to the United States. Tens of thousands more have expressed to UNHCR their interest in being resettled, with this representing the best solution for a majority of refugees still living in the camps. Nonetheless, the United States government and other donors urge the governments of Bhutan and Nepal to resume bilateral discussions so that interested Bhutanese refugees can pursue voluntary repatriation or local integration.
Sri Lankan Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons: Fighting which concluded in May 2009 resulted in the displacement of nearly 300,000 Sri Lankans, in addition to the 300,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) already in protracted displacement. As of September 2012, approximately 470,000 of these IDPs have returned to their areas of origin. Formal camps for these IDPs are now closed. However, as many as 115,000 IDPs still remain, most living with host families while others live in welfare centers or in makeshift transit situations. The U.S. government advocates for needed infrastructure and services so that IDPs can achieve durable solutions and re-establish their lives. The U.S. government, through contributions managed by the Department of State and USAID, provides program funding for internally displaced Sri Lankans to UNHCR, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), WFP, and other international organization and NGO partners.
In addition to Sri Lanka’s internally displaced, there are an estimated 136,000 Sri Lankan refugees worldwide. The majority of these live in camps in Tamil Nadu, India. Through PRM, the U.S. government funds NGO projects there to provide protection, improve camp conditions, targeting shelter, water and sanitation, livelihoods training, and prevention and response to sexual and gender based violence. Since the end of the conflict, some 6,000 refugees have voluntarily returned to Sri Lanka to rebuild their lives, a process supported by the U.S. government through its contributions to UNHCR both in Sri Lank and in India.
The Bureau programmed over $16 million in South Asia in Fiscal Year 2012 to support refugees, returnees, asylum seekers, internally displaced persons, conflict victims, and stateless persons, not including those from Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The Regional Refugee Coordinator and Deputy Regional Refugee Coordinator are based in Kathmandu, Nepal and cover Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, and Bhutan.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and the World Food Program (WFP) are all active in the region.
In addition, PRM provides funding to NGOs who work with several other vulnerable populations, including the Tibet Fund, Lutheran World Federation, and local NGOs which provide assistance to Tibetan refugees, and Catholic Relief Services, Salesian Missions, Save the Children, and Adventist Development and Relief Agency, which work to improve the situation of Sri Lankan refugees.