Advocating for Change: Bhutanese Refugee Community in Denmark urges action on Statelessness

Thugten Dorjee Drukpa, President for the Association of Bhutanese Communities in Denmark
/ 5 mins read

This blog post presents the work of the Association of Bhutanese Communities in Denmark (ABC Danmark) as they advocate for change to address statelessness among permanently resettled Bhutanese refugees in the country, of which 98% still remain without a nationality today. It discusses the release of a statistical data report that sheds light on the continued prevalence of statelessness in the community and emphasizes the need for action, as well as an open letter urging the Danish government to address the issue. With growing support and media coverage, the resettled Bhutanese community continues to fight for an end to their statelessness in Denmark.

Denmark flag

The Bhutanese refugee crisis began in the early 1990s when over 100,000 ethnic Nepali individuals were expelled from Bhutan for advocating for human rights and democracy. Seeking refuge in Nepal, they spent nearly two decades in UNHCR-aided Bhutanese refugee camps. With repatriation and local integration proving unsuccessful, third-country resettlement became the only viable option. Responding to the UNHCR's appeal, Denmark and seven other nations (USA, Canada, Norway, Netherlands, UK, Australia, and New Zealand) participated in the resettlement program. Denmark successfully resettled 845 Bhutanese refugees between 2008 and 2015 as UN “quota refugees”.

Initially, the Bhutanese refugees were filled with enthusiasm and hope when given the opportunity to resettle in Denmark. We saw it as a chance to rebuild our lives and eventually overcome statelessness by acquiring Danish citizenship. However, we soon realized that the strict immigration and naturalization laws in place would hinder our path to citizenship. Even now, after residing in Denmark for over a decade, only 2% of the initially resettled Bhutanese refugees have succeeded in obtaining Danish citizenship. We, primarily identified as vulnerable individuals by the UNHCR, face higher rates of illiteracy, physical ailments, and mental health issues, requiring immediate or lifelong protection based on the severity of our conditions. Without accessible pathways, most of us are unable to attain citizenship.

Recognizing this situation, the Association of Bhutanese Communities in Denmark (ABC Danmark) has taken proactive measures to raise their concerns with the Danish Government and seek a solution to the 30 -years of statelessness (and counting) among the Bhutanese refugee community in Denmark. Recently, ABC Danmark published an open letter to the Danish government and released a comprehensive report on the resettled Bhutanese refugees in Denmark. Their aim is to urge authorities to address the issue of statelessness among the resettled Bhutanese community and bring about positive change.

Open Letter to the Government of Denmark

The open letter, addressed to the Government of Denmark, highlights the issue of statelessness faced by permanently resettled Bhutanese refugees in Denmark and urges the government to address it. The letter expresses gratitude for the resettlement opportunity but raises concerns about the strict immigration and naturalization laws that prevent most refugees from acquiring Danish citizenship.

The letter emphasizes that the refugees were brought to Denmark under the UNHCR third-country resettlement program and urges the government to adhere to the program's definition of resettlement. It recounts the failed attempts to return to Bhutan and the flawed verification process, demonstrating the Bhutanese government's unwillingness to repatriate the refugees.

The open letter underscores the challenges encountered by elderly refugees who are illiterate and face difficulties in meeting the rigorous criteria for permanent residency and citizenship. Additionally, it highlights the prolonged wait faced by younger refugees, who need time to pursue a university education, fulfill job requirements, and become eligible for Danish citizenship. This process may extend until their early thirties.

The mental health implications of statelessness are addressed, emphasizing the refugees' prolonged stateless status despite living in Denmark for over a decade. The letter points out the lack of a sense of belonging and integration due to the absence of citizenship.

The open letter acknowledges Denmark's tightened immigration laws but requests the government to consider the exceptional circumstances of Bhutanese refugees. It urges the government to grant them Danish citizenship, given their forced displacement and the government's role in their resettlement.

In conclusion, the open letter highlights the statelessness issue faced by resettled Bhutanese refugees in Denmark and appeals to the government to take action. It calls for granting Danish citizenship to enable the refugees to integrate into society and obtain a sense of belonging fully.

Statistical Data Report on Permanently Resettled Bhutanese Refugees in Denmark

The Statistical Data Report on Permanently Resettled Bhutanese Refugees in Denmark provides a comprehensive analysis of the challenges faced by Bhutanese refugees who have been resettled in Denmark. The report focuses on their difficulties in obtaining permanent residency and citizenship through naturalization, including barriers related to illiteracy, health issues, and strict immigration and naturalization laws.

The report provides a comprehensive overview of Denmark's resettled Bhutanese refugee community, providing extensive statistical data. It delves into various crucial aspects, such as the total number of individuals, gender distribution, countries of birth, and refugee camps of origin. Moreover, it sheds light on essential details like arrival dates in Denmark, current residency status, literacy rates, labor force participation, and current places of residence.

However, the most disconcerting revelation from our data analysis is that among the 845 Bhutanese refugees initially resettled in Denmark, a mere 17 individuals (2%) have succeeded in obtaining citizenship. Out of this number, only one person is from the group of 201 individuals aged above 50 years.

Taking a broader perspective, out of the current total of 1010 individuals, only 155 have been granted citizenship. Among these, 138 are children born in Denmark who gained direct access to citizenship. Tragically, 855 individuals out of 1010 remain stateless, facing uncertain futures and potential challenges regarding their rights and access to various opportunities.

This alarming data calls for urgent attention and concerted efforts to find sustainable solutions and address the plight of the stateless refugees.

The report aims to support advocacy efforts by ABC Danmark and effectively communicate the challenges faced by resettled Bhutanese refugees to concerned authorities, organizations, and individuals. By providing accurate and comprehensive data, the report aims to enhance understanding, foster empathy, and generate support for finding a solution to the statelessness issue of the Bhutanese refugee community in Denmark. Additionally, it serves as a historical account of our immigration details.

The Statistical Data Report on Permanently Resettled Bhutanese Refugees in Denmark is a valuable resource for ABC Danmark's storytelling project. It aims to raise awareness about the plight of the resettled refugees, facilitate effective communication, and garner broader support in addressing their statelessness issue.

Read the open letter and report

The initiative has gained momentum, supported by various organizations, including the European Network on Statelessness (ENS) and the Danish Institute for Human Rights (DIHR). Media coverage, such as the article by the renowned newspaper 'Information,' further increased visibility. The Commissioner for Human Rights at the Council of Europe has pledged to write a report on the statelessness issue of resettled Bhutanese refugees in Denmark, providing recommendations to the Danish government. With widening support, the Bhutanese community remains dedicated to advocating for their rights and working towards a solution to end their statelessness.

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