Nepal: one third of Bhutanese refugees resettled
29 October 2010

Preparing communities for durable solutions, Shanyarima camp, eastern Nepal, (Peter Balleis SJ/JRS)
It is more than 20 years since more than 105,000 ethnic Lhotsampa Bhutanese refugees fled their homeland.
Rome, 19 October 2010 – More than 36,000 Bhutanese refugees have been resettled in third countries, according to statistics recently produced by the Nepali government. This is a significant increase on the numbers resettled in the last 20 months. Since January 2009, 28,000 Bhutanese refugees have been resettled.

Of those resettled, the overwhelming majority, 31,133, have gone to the US, with Australia and Canada accepting some 2,000 each. The remainder have gone to Denmark, New Zealand, Norway and the UK. Another 11, 732 refugees accepted by resettlement countries are awaiting departure.

The current population in the camps as of 30 September is 75,671, down from an initial number of 111,000. The Bhutanese refugee population is expected to drop to 71,000 by next January, 55,000 by the end of the year and 39,000 by January 2013. Based on these projects, JRS expects the resettlement programme to continue into 2014.

The refugees have been divided into two categories – favouring resettlement and willing to be repatriated. According to statistics on resettlement figures up until 30 September 2010, less than 20 percent of the initial Bhutanese refugee population in camps in eastern Nepal have not expressed an interest in moving to a third country. Most of this group continues to hope that some day they will be allowed return home.

Years of waiting

It is expected that the forthcoming mission from Australia in November, Canada and Netherlands in October and the US in November will determine the departure dates for those accepted by the four countries.

It is more than 20 years since more than 105,000 ethnic Lhotsampa Bhutanese refugees fled Bhutan into Nepal through a narrow strip of India which separates the two countries. Indian Security Forces escorted the refugees to Nepal. The remaining refugees live in seven UNHCR managed camps in two districts in eastern Nepal. A much smaller number eke out a livelihood in India.

Over the years, Nepal and Bhutan have engaged in successive rounds of bilateral negotiations to resolve the issue. The results of the process, made public in June 2003, only offered four percent the right to unconditional return, while a further 71 percent was offered the possibility of return subject to the fulfilment of stringent conditions, such as passing language tests, living in special housing etc. Following subsequent unrest in some camps, the Bhutanese government, citing security concerns, suspended the process.

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