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Myth of Voluntary Immigration

The Royal Government of Bhutan insisted in placing Bhutanese refugees in the camps in Nepal into four categories during the first Bhutan-Nepal Joint Ministerial Committee Talk (JMLT) held in Kathmandu on October 4-7, 1993. Nepal, eager to bring elusive Bhutan to the negotiating table for resolution of Bhutanese refugees issue, had no choice but to accept the categorization of refugees into following four categories:

  • Bonafide Bhutanese, if they have been evicted forcefully;

  • Bhutanese who emigrated;

  • Non- Bhutanese people; and

  • Bhutanese who have committed criminal acts.

The Royal Government of Bhutan now contends that the refugees under category of "Bhutanese who emigrated" are in fact, those who have "voluntarily" emigrated from the country. It says that they have fulfilled all official formalities, legal procedures and obligations to emigrate to Nepal. Bhutan contends that these people have applied for voluntary emigration to Nepal and not evicted under coercion.


There was no external aggression, civil war, famine etc. in Bhutan, then why did the Nepali-speaking Lhotshampas suddenly decide to emigrate en-mass to Nepal? Under normal conditions, why would people choose to leave their homeland in thousands to live in refugee camps? Why did so many people decided to seek out-migration from Bhutan only after the first-ever pro-human right peaceful demonstration in Southern Bhutan in 1990?.


The truth however, is that they did never ask for "voluntary migration" or "voluntary emigration" form Bhutan, rather they were coerced to sign documents and papers saying that they were voluntarily migrating from Bhutan under gun-point. The people were coerced to leave the country under direct physical abuse, intimidation, threats and harassment. The bogey of "voluntary migration" is also a conspiracy of the government to forcefully evict the Lhotshampas.


The bogey of "Voluntary Migration" is a corollary/sequence of population politics - which aimed at depopulating southern Bhutan, by reducing the number of Nepali-speaking Lhotshampas to 25% of the total population. It is linked to the Citizenship Act, 1985, which too seeks to bring about a demographic balance in favour of the ruling Ngalung community. The politics of 'Voluntary Migration' has the tendency to create statelessness as it compels the people to leave the country forever. Bhutanese laws forfeit a person's right to return once he leaves the country, thus making mockery of international law - that allows any person to leave his country and to return to it.


The answers to these questions perhaps lies in the issuance of 'voluntary migration forms' - written in Dzongkha language, which ordinary people were forced to sign. "Voluntary Migration" is nothing but forcible exile. "Amnesty International believes that many people in the camps in Nepal have been forced out of Bhutan as a result of measures taken by the Bhutanese authorities. Many of those in the camps in Nepal have been forcibly exiled from Bhutan on account of their ethnic origin or political beliefs" (Forcible Exile, Amnesty International, London.).  


The Dzongda (District Magistrate or Chief District Officer) and the Home Ministry were the main architect of so-called "voluntary migration" to reduce the population in Southern Bhutan. The government had already printed migration forms, compensation form etc., prior to peoples' leaving the country- shows that the government had craftily planned the so-called "voluntary migration". the procedure adopted for "voluntary migration" were as follows:  


The Dzongda ( District Magistrate or Chief District Officer) instructs the Mandals ( village headmen) to call a meeting of villagers to submit "voluntary migration" form. In the meeting the Village headman declares that all the villagers must submit application stating that they wanted to lave the country. He warns that if they failed to submit the form, they will be severely dealt with. There is no appeal. Thus, the intimidated villagers are made to write an application that they were willingly seeking " voluntary migration" out of Bhutan, under threat. The Dzongda then sends the application to the District Court. The applicants are then made to fill up the Emigration Form issued by the Court. ( Form 1 below). The form is written in Dzongkha language, which the villagers do not understand.

Form 1. Emigration From
( Translated form Dzongkha)
Chirang Thrimkhang

Name of Head of Family......................


Father's Name.................................



Citizenship Card No...............

Thram Number...........................

House Number...........................


The applicants are coerced to write that " He and his family members are seeking voluntary migration out of the country" in the reason for leaving column. The court then asks the village headman to present himself and the applicant. ( Form 2 below) 

Form 2: Court's letter addressed to Gewog Gup (Village Headman)

Chirang Thrimkhang
Letter No. DCC [...(1273)-91/27] Date...............

The [.. Lamidara ] Gup of Chirang Dzongkhag - according to your Chirang Dzongkhag's letter No. CDA/CENSUS [...-6/91-92/1421] dated [...27/12/91], [...Ran Bahadur Kharga] of [...Lamidara] Block has, of his own free will, applied to the country alongwith [....nine] members of his family. In this regard, the court requires those who have submitted such applications to be personally present in court in order to clarify the matter. Therefore, in view of [...Ran Bahadur Kharg's ] application, the Gup is called upon to be present alongwith him in this court without fail at 9 AM on [...31/12/91].

Copy to:

1. Chirang Dzongkhag
2. Superintendent of Police, Chirang
3. Applicant [..Ran Bahadur Kharga, through Lamidara Gup]

(Rinchen Dorji)
Chirang Thrimpon

After the receipt of the emigration form by the court, the District Magistrate makes the so-called "emigrant" and the district official to sign an Agreement, which provides provisions for "compensation" by the government to the "emigrant". (Form 3)

Form 3. - Agreement between Dzongkhag ( District Administration) and Emigrant

Chirang Thrimkang
Agreement no. [..91/27] Date.....................


Resident of [..Lamidara] Chirang, [..Lamidara] Block, House Number [...LD/139], bearing name [..Ran Bahadur Kharga] and Citizenship identity Card Number [..134406], having applied as per his own wish to leave the country through the Gup, and his case being duly forwarded by the Dzongdag, Chirang vide letter No. CDA/CESNSUS [..-6/91/92/1421] dated [..27/1/91] and the same being submitted to this court, the said person, [..Ran Bahadur Kharga], has admitted and declared to this court that he has no complaints whatsoever against anyone and that he has mentally decided on his own to leave the country and go to [..Hariya], Jhapa, [..Nepal] alongwith his other people belonging to [...Lamidara] Block, Thram Number [..114] and House number [..272].
From the Court's side, having considered, firstly, with regard to people wishing to leave the country, as per law ka)5-10 which does not restrict people from leaving, and as per Ministry of Home Affairs letter No. ka-(14)2/85/909 which states that people wishing to leave the country on their own can do so; secondly, with regard to the surrender of land to the government, as per the law ka-(10) 18(6)/91/1639 dated 2.9.91 which states that after paying all dues and taxes the payment for the land surrendered to the government will be made as follows;

1. Paddy Fields, Class 1.............
2. Paddy Fields, Class 2..............
3. Dry Fields, Class 1.............
4. Dry Fields, Class 2.............

The house and land under the ownership of the emigrant having been individually compensated for considering the land under Thram Number [...114], House Number [..272] valued at Ngultrum [..Forty One Thousand Six Hundred], and also having exempted, according to Home ministry's letter No. 909, the 10% tax that such transactions entail.

From today, the above person alongwith the other [..nine] persons included under his census have been deleted from the census records of Chirang,. Upon being deleted from the census records as Bhutanese citizens, anyone not abiding by this may be liable to a fine of Nu. 1000.00 and one year of imprisonment as per Agreement 0...11].

1. Signature of Head of family wishing to leave Bhutan
2. Land Compensation paying authority from Chirang Dzongkhag
Signatures/Thumb impressions of;
3. Ran Bahadur Kharga, 2. Dzongda, Chirang 4. Gup of Lamidara Block
Copy to:
1. Hon'ble Home Minister, Thimphu
2. Hon'ble Finance Minister, Thimphu
3. Deputy Minister, high Court, Thimphu

Date [..31/12/91]                                                      (Rinchen Dorji)
                                                                              Chirang Thrimpon

 The officials of District Administration then makes a video film of the handing over of compensation to the so-called "emigrants". The emigrants are coerced to smile and show happiness before the video camera. In many instances, the recipient were relieved of most of his "compensation' by officials as deductions on account of children's education, medical services, prison charges at a rate of Nu.2,000.00 per month etc. After completing all these formalities the applicants must leave Bhutan in three days, failing which he will have violated the Agreement and will be liable to a fine of Nu.1,000.00 and imprisonment of one year.


The government has printed a standard form for compensation to the 'emigrants'. The form contains the properties of the 'emigrants'. The emigrants are forced to sign stating that he is wiling to sell his properties registered in his name and as described in the compensation form ( Form No. 4). The compensation is far below the market value and even lower than the government's own approved rates Form No. 4


AGREEMENT DATE.............
I, ........, resident of Block........ Thram No. .............., do hereby sign this agreement that I desire to willingly sell my land as described in the above Thram Number to the government at the prevailing government rates. In this regard, I have not been pressurized by anyone to sell; having received Nu......... in words payment from the government, I am willingly leaving the land Description of land is as hereunder :-

Thram No.

Description of land


Name of Place











The southern Bhutanese were paid the above rates as compensation for leaving the country. These rates are not keeping with the government's own approved rate for acquisition of properties. For example, the so-called 'emigrants' were paid Nu. 8, 000.00 per acre of Class I paddy fields. The government rate for Class I paddy fields was Nu. 30,000.00 per acre of land. ( Form 5-A below)

The rates for a acquisition of land belonging to the public by the government were approved by the Cabinet on June 26, 1986. These rates circulated by the Ministry of Finance vide circular No. MF/CAO/2/86/2034 date July 8, 1986 came into effect from July 10, 1986.

From 5. Government approved rate for acquisition of land

Class "A" Towns

within Municipal area

Nu. 65,300.00 per acre



Nu. 43,500.00 per acre

Class "B" Towns


Nu. 43,500.00 per acre



Nu. 30,500.00 per acre

Class "C" Towns


Nu. 30,500.00 per acre

There were 9, 14 and 9 towns classified as Class A, B, and C respectively, of which 3,5 and 6 were in southern Bhutan with almost wholly southern Bhutanese populations at the time these rates were approved. Outside Class "C" Towns and in Rural Areas, the approved rates were as follows; Form 5-A

Paddy Field (wet land)

Class 1

Nu. 30,000.00 per acre


Class 2

Nu. 20,000.00 per acre


Class 3

Nu. 15,000.00 per acre

Paddy Field (dry land)

Class 1

Nu. 15,000.00 per acre


Class 2

Nu. 10,000.00 per acre


Class 3

Nu. 8,000.00 per acre

Pangshi and Cheri (Dry land)

Maximum of

Nu. 3,000.00 per acre

Grazing Land


Nu. 200.00 per acre


To be paid for one tree and age of orchard basis
For Orange - Nu. 350.00 per tree from 7th year


Areca Nut Nu. 130.00 per tree from 7th year
Cardamom Nu. 15,000.00 per acre from 4th year


Compensation to be determined through evaluation.

It must be emphasized that the above government- approved figures only reflect rates enforced by the government to enable it to acquire land; it is not indicative of actual land values which, in the case of some of the towns, exceeds Nu. One Million per acre. In southern Bhutan, good irrigated paddy land is valued at over Nu. 200,000.00 per acre.


Name                                     : Mr. Chudamuni Adhikari
Age                                       : 49
No. of Family members              : 10
Address in Bhutan                    : Katarey village, Nichula Block, Kalikhola Thram
                                              ( Land deed) No. 141. House No. KT/16
Refugee camp address              : Sector B3. Hut No. 13/14, Beldangi II-Extn
                                              Bhutanese refugee camp Nepal

On February 21, 1991, there was a meeting at our village headman's (Mondal) residence in Nichula. During the meeting the Mondal, Mr. Sun Man announced that all the villagers were to submit applications to the Dunga (Sub Divisional Officer) stating that they wanted to leave the country. He further warned that anyone failing to submit the same would be severely dealt with. The very day, I wrote an application to the Dunga stating that I would not leave the country. On March 1, 1991, I personally went to him and requested him to allow me to allow me to live in my homeland where generations of my forefathers had lived. But the Dunga angrily threatened me that I better followed what I asked to do by the mondal or else I would be punished. When I repeated my plea, policemen were called in, who then dragged me out of his office. I was then taken into police custody at around 11:00 AM. While I was left alone in the cell, three army men came in at about 5 PM and started coercing me to write the application for filling the VMF. When I denied, they started beating me mercilessly with wooden rolls until I lost my consciousness. When I opened my eyes the following morning; I discovered myself still in the police custody, all alone.

For the next five days, I was kept without food. On the fifth day, the soldiers came to the cell and began intimidating me to write the application. Tired and exhausted, I was not able to bear anymore torture and I wrote down the application. Soon after that, I was released and I came back to my house. After seven days, a group of police personnels came to my house to summon me to the office in Sarbhang. There they had the 'Voluntary Migration Form ` filled and forced me to sign on a document, the contents of which I did not understand. Out of sheer fear, I signed it. This was done in the Dunga's office in Sarbhang who then ordered me to submit the VMF to the District Officer (Dongda). The following day, I was given an utterly low compensation for my property. While I was being handed over the money, I was asked to smile and said that I was leaving my country on my own free-will, facing a video camera. When I refused to do so, the policemen who were managing the affair, under the supervision of the Dungpa and the Dzongda, beat me hard on my back. Out of extreme fear, I compiled to the order and the authority watches the scene mockingly. After the task was completed, the Dzongda, Mr. Penjor Dorji ordered me to leave the country within five days. For fear of persecution and in order to save the lives of my family members from the brutality of the local administration, I left the country, leaving my home and property behind. This was not just my fate, all our village folks fell prey to this grand design of forcible eviction and they now live like me as refugees in the camps in Eastern Nepal. ( Voluntary Migration Report by AMCC)

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