Sudan: U.S. Offer to Take Refugees Could Break Bhutan-Nepal Deadlock
October 6, 2006Posted to the web October 8, 2006
Charlene PorterWashington, DC
The United States is proposing to resettle up to 60,000 Bhutanese Lhotshampas refugees over the next several years, an offer that is described by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as an opportunity to break a long-standing deadlock over more than 100,000 refugees from Bhutan living in eastern Nepal.
"Years of bilateral negotiations between Nepal and Bhutan have made little progress in resolving this issue," said UNHCR spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis at an October 6 briefing in Geneva, "so the opportunity of large-scale resettlement is a real spark of hope."
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Population Refugees and Migration Ellen Sauerbrey made the resettlement offer while attending the UNHCR's Executive Committee meeting in Geneva October 2-6.
"After 15 different governmental-level consultations between the two governments," Sauerbrey said at an October 2 briefing, "the United States has come forward and said we are willing to resettle a very significant part of this population."
She said the United States likely will be able to absorb up to 60,000 refugees over three or four years, with Canada and Australia also offering to take some of the Bhutanese refugees.
The Lhotshampas refugees are ethnically Nepali Hindus and have been subjected to increasing restrictions by the Buddhist-dominated Bhutanese government since the 1980s. In 1990 the Bhutanese government effectively declared large numbers of the Lhotshampas stateless peoples, forcing the creation of the seven refugee camps in eastern Nepal.
"The way ahead is still complex," said Pagonis. "We hope the Nepalese government will maximize the opportunity being presented by these interested countries to help resolve this very protracted situation."
For more information on the Nepali-Bhutanese refugee dispute, see The State of the World's Refugees 2006 on the UNHCR Web site.