NEPAL: Bhutanese refugees hesitant over US resettlement offer
10 Oct 2006 08:27:36 GMT10 Oct 2006 08:27:36 GMT
KATHMANDU, 10 October (IRIN) -
Bhutanese refugees living in Nepal have expressed scepticism over an offer of third-country settlement from Washington.
On 2 October, US Assistant Secretary of State for Refugee Affairs, Ellen Sauerbury, told reporters in Geneva that her government was willing to "absorb 50,000 or 60,000 of the [Bhutanese] people who are now in these [refugee] camps".
But both the refugees and the Nepalese government were surprised at the announcement, saying they had not been consulted.
"There has been no formal communication and discussion between the US government and us about this offer to resettle Bhutanese refugees," said Yadav Khanal, a spokesman for Nepal's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), in the capital Kathmandu on Monday.
Bhutanese refugee settled in neighbouring Nepal in large numbers from 1990 after a large number of ethnic Nepalese, known as Lhotshampas, were evicted from their homes by the Bhutanese government. The group had been living in Bhutan for more than two centuries.
The refugees said they were fleeing a new Bhutanese citizenship law that disenfranchised them and deprived them of citizenship and civil rights.
According to the Bhutanese Refugee Representatives Repatriation Committee (BRRRC), there are now over 106,000 refugees living in seven camps in the Morang and Jhapa districts of eastern Nepal, nearly 700 km east of the capital.
More than 15 rounds of bilateral negotiations over more than a decade between Nepal and Bhutan have failed to resolve the refugees' plight.
"We are still in favour of reaching a bilateral solution to the Bhutanese refugee issue," said Khanal, adding that the two countries are having talks in November but the dates and venues had yet to be finalised.
"We have been waiting for nearly two decades to return to our homes and we are still hoping that our struggle and wait will not be in vain," said Bhoompa Rai, a BRRRC leader.
Rai added that most Bhutanese refugees still held out the hope of going home and that most wanted to retain their Bhutanese citizenship in order to be able to do so in the future.
Meanwhile, the US resettlement offer has reportedly provoked tensions among refugees in the camps. "This issue has already created a huge rift and misunderstanding between the refugee families," explained Rai.
A minority of the refugees have agreed to take up the offer for resettlement while the majority are vehemently against the idea, according to BRRRC members.
"The international community, especially the US, should help us get a proper settlement to repatriate to Bhutan if it is genuinely concerned about us," said refugee Ram Lal Subedi in the capital. He is one of a group of refugees who have been organising an ongoing demonstration in Kathmandu to bring international attention to their cause.