Nepal's refugee policy

The Power of Norms

Why did Nepal decide in 2007 to resettle over 100,000 refugees from Bhutan, but at the same time decide not to permit the resettlement of only 5,000 refugees from Tibet? More precisely, why did Nepal decide to conform to the human rights norms of the international refugee regime (that are argued to impose a responsibility to end refugee-hood with a durable solution) in the case of the more than 100,000 Bhutanese refugees – and decide not to conform to them in the case of the Tibetan refugees? Hugh Tuckfield, Visiting Researcher of the Research Unit Global Governance and Doctoral candidate of the School of Social and Political Sciences (University of Sydney), examines in his PhD thesis how and why a small impoverished state such as Nepal is induced to conform to human rights norms in one case of protracted refugee-hood, the Bhutanese, and not another, the Tibetans?

Rationalists would argue that Nepal was motivated by a logic of consequentiality and prior preferences, where normative compliance is the result of strategic calculation and reasoning coupled with prospective future benefits. However, rationalism does not fully explain the puzzle of Hugh Tuckfield’s research, the contradictory and polarized behaviour of Nepal to two different refugee populations, since human rights should be applied universally. Constructivists would argue that the two case studies are illustrations of thin or Type I socialization – where there has only been conscious role playing by Nepal to act in accordance with the expectations of the socialization agents and not driven by maximization of their own utility, but rather a sense of responsibility or obligation – a logic of appropriateness.

However, the constructivists approach to socialization does not fully explain the behaviour of Nepal where human rights are constituted at the national level for one refugee population and not another. His research thus turns to the deeply embedded cultural norms that frame the Nepal-China and Nepal-India relationships and examines how and why a small state like Nepal is induced to conform to human rights norms of the international refugee regime in one case and not another and if, how and why existing cultural norms influence the decision to conform to international norms, or not.