In the early 1990s the country of Bhutan, in the Himalayas, forcibly drove out over 100,000 ethnic Nepalis they claimed were not true citizens. These Bhutanese refugees ended up in eastern Nepal as migrants in limbo. Required to stay in refugee camps, they’ve lived for 20 years without electricity or good health care. The camp residents are also vulnerable to underhand job offers.
In March 2012, photographer Katie Orlinsky and Laura Sheahen of Caritas Internationalis visited the camps with Rupa Rai, who runs safe migration programmes for Caritas Nepal.
8:00 As we drive along the road to the camp, we see refugee men bicycling into the nearby town of Damak for work like bricklaying. At the camp entrance, we pass a dozen thatched-roof kiosks with Western Union signs. Many refugees have finally been admitted into countries like the USA, Australia, and Canada. Some are doing well and are sending money back to their relatives.
9:00 We see big warehouses filled with bags of rice and pulses from the World Food Program. We pass a marriage procession–complete with young men bearing a heavy car battery on a stick, the better to play wedding music in a place that has no electricity. This is a legitimate marriage, our camp guide explains, not a contract marriage. Since Bhutanese refugees are now being relocated to desirable countries, some Nepalis want to marry them in name only, to get the visa. At times, though, the contract marriage ruse is used to lure girls into more dangerous situations. Told that she’ll receive money if she goes to a place and is part of some paperwork formalities, the refugee girl may end up sold into, say, farm labour in Korea—or sold into a brothel in India.
10:00 We walk through the dusty lanes of the camp, where the bamboo-slat huts are about a metre apart. The walls are papered with newspapers inside to keep out the wind. Continue reading