Frozen lives

The road leading north from the town of Damak to the three clustered Beldangi refugee camps in southeast Nepal is paved until it reaches the police post marking the camps' entrance. After that, it becomes an uneven surface that eventually tapers off into a maze of dirt pathways. The lack of paved surfaces is only one example of the ephemeral character of infrastructure in the Bhutanese refugee camps, of which there are seven in Nepal. Most buildings are made of bamboo and thatch, and [none] have electricity, despite the misleading presence of power lines just outside the camp boundaries serving local Nepali citizens. Though the camps were not built for permanent residency, they are now in their second decade of existence.

The Beldangi camps in Nepal's Jhapa district house just under 50,000 Bhutanese refugees, most of whom have been in exile since 1992. The camps are remarkably well kept and free of litter, in stark contrast to most trash-filled Nepali communities, and are laid out in an ordered grid. Just outside their boundary, a row of makeshift shops sells booze, which is forbidden in the camps, and car batteries that refugees with a little money can purchase to power low-wattage items in their homes. Given the population density, as many as eight people crowd into 12-foot by 18-foot houses, in between which young children play in the afternoons. Four other camps in Nepal – Sanischare, Goldhap, Timai and Khudunabari – together house roughly the same number as the Beldangi camps, and another estimated 30,000 Bhutanese exiles live in India.

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Himal Southasian
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