DAMAK, Nepal : The Jesuit Refugee Service(JRS) has stepped in to break a cycle of violence, drug and sexual abuse that had been plaguing thousands of ethnic Nepali youths from Bhutan living in refugee camps in East Nepal.
“All kinds of evils were plaguing the camps,” says Jesuit Father Peter Jong Lepcha, program coordinator of Youth Friendly Centres (YFC).
“We realized that there are so many programs being implemented for the refugees in general but nothing for the youth as such.”
The YFC program is part of the Jesuit Refugee Service’s (JRS) Bhutanese Refugee Education Program, supported by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and Caritas Nepal.
Ganesh Pradhan, 37, in charge of the YFC program in Sanischare refugee camp told UCA that the initiative has given the youths a platform to develop their skills and overall personality.
“The various programs under the YFC have changed the lives of the youths here. Instances of violence that existed earlier, the drug abuse, the sexual abuse and other problems have gone down dramatically,” he said.
The Bhutanese of Nepali origin — known as Lhotsampas — are caught in a no man’s land.
Thousands fled Bhutan fearing for their lives after new citizenship rules were introduced about two decades ago. The government says the refugees are migrants and have no right to live in Bhutan.
The refugees believe their only options are settling down in foreign countries or repatriation to the homeland they still love.
Sun Maya Tamang, 39, wants to go back to her homeland in Bhutan, but she says she still has not made up her mind if she will opt for a third-country resettlement.
“I may just opt for it, I am not sure,” she said. “I still feel bad about leaving behind, 18 years ago, the home, the farmland we had, and the happy memories.”
According to the JRS, there are now more than 108,000 refugees living in the seven camps in East Nepal.
JRS field director Father PS Amalraj, told UCA News that young people are vital to conditions in the camps.
“The power of the youth can either build or destroy the refugee camps. Keeping this in mind, we established one youth friendly center in each camp and we now have 14,000 members,” Father Amalraj said.
The YFC initiative consists of education in journalism, television presenting, sports, music and awareness of HIV/AIDS and other social issues.
An online education program has recently been added to address the growing school drop-out rate in the camps, Father Lepcha says.
The UNHCR reported in September that more than 20,000 Bhutanese refugees had been resettled overseas — mostly in the US — with a further 5,000 expected to leave Nepal by the end of 2009.
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