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Resettlement affects camp education

Fewer refugees good, but fewer resources bad

Resettlement affects camp education
Bhutanese refugees attending classes in a refugee camp in Nepal last year
Chirendra Satyal, Kathmandu

August 24, 2011

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The field director of the Bhutanese Refugee Education Program said recently that increased resettlement of camp residents has affected the human resources available for training because the program has largely been managed by refugees for refugees. Jesuit Father Paramasivan Amalaraj, director of the program run jointly by Caritas Nepal and Jesuit Refugee Services, said the program supports nearly 17,000 students, down from more than 20,000 last year. “There are negative effects of resettlement and challenges for staffing amid brain drain and scarce human resources,” he said, adding that many students had become undisciplined and lost interest in education. “Frustration and depression have become all too common as families get separated through resettlement and an overall feeling of anxiety.” About 60,000 refugees from neighboring Bhutan still live in camps along the border with eastern Nepal, as authorities plan to merge existing camps into three areas by the end of this year, Fr Paramasivan said. In 1990, Bhutan began a program of “Bhutanization,” enforcing northern Bhutan culture as the official national culture. Some minority groups were forcibly evicted, according to international aid agencies. Refugees said at the time that Bhutanese officials had taken away their citizen cards, forced them to sign away deeds to land and told them to migrate. Tens of thousands of refugees crossed the border into Nepal, where they took up residence in a series of makeshift settlements. Since that time, almost 50,000 have been resettled to the US, Europe and elsewhere, Fr Paramasivan said, adding that the education program has made efforts to train additional teachers to fill the gaps left by resettlement and to stem the decline in the number of students receiving passing grades in high school courses. The percentage of students passing the 10th grade has dropped 32 percent this year, he said. “To meet the challenges, we have continuous trainings for hundreds of teachers. We also offer student counseling for thousands of students and their parents.” Fr Paramasivan said more than 600 people contribute to educational programs in the refugee camps – most of them refugees themselves. “It is really an education program for refugees by refugees,” he said, adding that programs aim to provide vocational skills in areas as diverse as computer technology, catering and plumbing to auto mechanics, embroidery and office administration. “We also have a disability program for about 2,131 people who suffer from impaired hearing, speech, vision and sometimes multiple disabilities.” Additional programs include journalism training and awareness campaigns on the prevention of HIV/AIDS, he said. The focus, however, remains on resettlement and life for refugees beyond the camps. “We have been a loud voice for advocacy towards their resettlement and continue that. In all our network meetings, we have remained a voice for the voiceless refugees.”
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