About 105,000 stateless Bhutanese refugees are housed in seven camps in southern Tarai region of Nepal since the early 90s. About 40 percent are children. In alien land, they are not allowed to step outside the UNHCR monitored camps. They remain huddled in huts, holding onto crumpled photocopies of their Bhutanese citizenship papers, refugee identity cards and hopelessness. Locked in this statelessness they are dependent on international aid. Men venture out to work illegally in nearby farmlands; many girls walk the streets at night. Few work as teachers at the schools inside the camps.
Nepal, an impoverished nation, refuses to naturalize or integrate the refugees because it has been battling decades of internal turmoil triggered by Maoist insurgency and a fragile democracy. About 25 percent of the refugees were born in Nepal and neither Nepal nor Bhutan is willing to accept them.
As a photographer, I want to capture the stalemate within the camps. I have visited and lived in the camps, heard the stories of bereavement and hopelessness, seen the dullness in their lives, the frustration of the youth, the longing of the old, and the gradual loss of a culture. My story is an investigation into the loss of identity due to political impasse. Over hundred thousand people who were citizens of a free nation overnight became unwanted refugees escaping through forests and hills. For years they were ignored, discarded prisoners of a camp, and now they will be asylum seekers in a first world country. Through photographs I want to show the loss of self-determination, political free will and identity crisis.
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