Published: June 06, 1993
Tens of thousands of people of Nepalese origin have left this remote Himalayan kingdom, many of them accusing Bhutanese officials of driving them out.
Bhutan says many of the migrants were illegal settlers who were identified in a census a few years ago. The migrants now live in crowded refugee camps in Nepal and with friends and relatives in neighboring India.
The anti-immigrant drive was authorized by King Jigme Singye Wangchuck.
King Jigme held talks with the Nepalese Prime Minister, Girija Prasad Koirala, on April 9 to resolve the issue, which has created tension between Bhutan and Nepal, but the negotiations failed.
“The census turned up 113,000 illegals,” said the 38-year-old King in an interview at his office in the Taschichodzong or main administrative center, which also houses a sprawling Buddhist monastery, in the capital, Thimpu.
Thimpu, a small town of pagoda-like buildings that is home to 30,000 people, is situated in a narrow valley 200 miles northwest of here and is reached by a winding mountain road that climbs and dips dizzyingly past waterfalls and a dazzling canopy of thick forests ranging from pine trees to rhododendrons and giant magnolia trees.
The border with India is ill-defined and unpatrolled, runs through rice fields, villages and forests and and is very easy to cross. There are no roads through Bhutan to this southwestern district; vehicles must reach Samchi through India.
King Jigme, who ascended the throne in 1972, wields near-absolute power but is respected across his ancient land of high mountains, where fortresses and villages cling perilously to steep slopes, for his hard work and accessibility.
The King said illegal migrations posed the greatest threat to Bhutan, a Buddhist country locked between China and India and dominated by an ethnic group known as the Drukpas. The Drukpas make up 70 percent of the population of 600,000, and are Buddhist. The Nepalese now number about 28 percent and are Hindus.
Foreign Minister Dawa Tsering said many of the illegal immigrants had come to work on development projects like roads, buildings and dams in the 1960’s and 1970’s. “They just stayed on,” he added.
This article was courtesy from The New York Times. It was published on 1993.