After two decades in a refugee project in Nepal that became the United Nations' largest resettlement programme, the faith-based agencies and philanthropic organisations involved are expecting a wider role by 2015 - writes Sudeshna Sarkar.
As nearly 95,000 Bhutanese refugees out of over 108,000 begin to leave their camps in eastern Nepal and start life afresh in eight western countries, the Lutheran World Federation Nepal (LWF Nepal), a country programme of the Lutheran World Federation's Department for World Service; Caritas Nepal, the social arm of the Roman Catholic Church in Nepal; and five other non-profit bodies are likely to be involved in the assimilation of the remaining refugees in Nepal.
"By 2015, it is estimated only about 10,000 refugees will be left in Nepal," said Marceline P. Rozario, LWF Nepal's country representative. "The government of Nepal has met the UN refugee agency running the camps, donors, and charitable organisations to discuss the possibility of absorbing the remaining refugees."
The plan is to develop the local community in Nepal's two eastern districts - Jhapa and Morang - that will absorb the refugees through projects for better health, education, livelihood, environment protection, and social inclusion.
"In 1994, we had similar programmes for the local communities near the refugee camps," said Rozario. "We hope we will be the implementing partner in the new programme too."
LWF Nepal was the first organisation to come to the aid of the refugees pouring into the tiny South Asian kingdom of Nepal from the 1990s when another kingdom in the neighbourhood, Bhutan, began evicting citizens of Nepalese origin.
"We were in the neighbourhood when the first Bhutanese refugees arrived in eastern Nepal in 1991," said Rozario. "They were living in the open on the river bank. It was a humanitarian crisis and we were the first organisation to respond. Then the UN refugee agency arrived and we became their implementing partner."
"While Nepal provided land for the seven refugee camps, LWF Nepal managed all the hardware - building the camps and access roads, sanitation, water supply, and the distribution of fuel and food," said Dhruva Pandit, LWF Nepal's refugee programme coordinator. "Everything save medical treatment and education."
From 1994-2000, LWF Nepal also contributed $400,000-$500,000 annually. However, with donors growing weary as the problem dragged on, LWF Nepal's own financial contribution came to an end last year.
"However, we still respond to emergencies," said Rozario. "After a fire this year, we raised $50,000 to rebuild the huts, supported by an additional $80,000 from the US government."
Caritas Nepal runs the Bhutanese Refugee Education Programme that provides school-level education as well as vocational skills. A budget of $80,000 has been allocated for the financial year 2010-11.
Caritas Nepal too faced donor fatigue. In 2006, Caritas Internationalis had to launch an appeal from Vatican City for funds.
In addition, the refugees receive medical treatment from the Association of Medical Doctors of Asia-Nepal, a chapter of AMDA-International, Japan, and counseling from Trans-cultural Psychosocial Organisation Nepal, affiliated with HealthNet TPO, an Amsterdam-based organisation seeking to improve public and mental healthcare in conflict and disaster settings.
While legal assistance is provided by Nepal Bar Association, Happy Nepal combats drug abuse and Vajra Foundation Nepal provides solar cookers.
[With acknowledgements to ENInews. ENInews, formerly Ecumenical News International, is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]