Bhutan Refugees Arrested

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Bhutan is a small country bordering India, China and Nepal. Its main two ethnic groups are the majority Drukpas and the Lhotsampas, who are of Nepalese origin. These groups coexisted peacefully until 1985, when the government under King Wangchuk, a Drukpa, passed laws which forced Lhotsampas to adopt Drukpa cultural practices and made it impossible for Lhotsampas to prove their Bhutanese citizenship.

Tensions rose among the Lhotsampas, and in 1990 they staged protests of their unfair treatment. Government forces responded immediately with a vicious reprisal, killing or imprisoning many protesters. Ultimately, more than 90,000 people were expelled from Bhutan and are now living as refugees in Nepal.

These refugees are anxious to return to Bhutan, but so far, negotiations between Nepal and Bhutan have been unsuccessful. Many believe that their only hope for repatriation lies in the involvement of the international community, especially India, whose powerful position in the region makes it extremely influential in Bhutan's policies regarding the Lhotsampas. In an attempt to provoke the Indian government into taking steps to help them, thousands of Lhotsampa refugees marched into West Bengal in January of this year. Instead of securing the safety of the marchers, however, the Indian government's police force harassed them, and many were arrested. There has been international outcry against these arrests, yet more than a hundred marchers are still imprisoned in India. The Indian government continues to ignore the plight of Lhotsampa refugees. Article copyright Cultural Survival, Inc.

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