Woe stricken

Additional health workers have been deployed in the Bhutanese refugee camps in Jhapa and Morang districts following an outbreak of viral flu. Several refugees have died so far and the Amda Hospital at Damak is chock a bloc with those suffering from the disease. Health centres in the camps offer services round the clock and around 250 refugees are reporting for treatment each day. The congested state of the camps renders the residents extremely susceptible to this highly contagious flu. Till date, strict sanitary measures introduced by the agencies looking after the refugees had prevented major epidemics from breaking out after the initial bout of cholera in the early nineties had threatened the refugee population. But despite all the efforts, the camps are still a soft target to a range of communicable diseases like diarrhoea, dysentery, cholera and viral fevers, to mention just a few.

Given the intensity with which the disease is spreading in the camps, the risk of it reaching epidemic proportions cannot be ruled out. Also on line of the flu fire are the Nepalis living adjacent to the refugee camps who frequently come in contact with each other. It is vital that the flu in the camps is fought at different levels through prompt treatment, sanitary measures,

and imposition of temporary quarantine. But these measures need to be put in place in the peripheral areas outside the camps also to prevent it from infecting the locals. Pitiful as the living condition of the refugees is, malnutrition, abject poverty and lack of easy access to essential services constantly conspire against anything good for the health of this lot. This is more so in the simmering summers. Add to it the frustration of an uncertain future and their predicament becomes all too clear.

The refugee problem has remained in Nepal’s backburner ever since a group of refugees had a commiseration with the Bhutanese verification authorities last year. It has been one and a half decade since the refugee camps were first established in Nepal. The refugees then hoped that they would be repatriated within a short span of time. Those refugees born in Nepal are growing totally ignorant of their Bhutanese heritage. They are also now talking about the need for Nepal to officially internationalise the issue. While those in the camps have loudly expressed their desire to return to their homeland, nothing concrete, however is being done at the moment to actually try and convince the Bhutanese authorities about accepting them back. Nepal must seriously consider finding a solution to the refugee problem. If internationalisation of the problem, as the refugees reckon, is the answer to this long-standing stalemate, so be it.