Offer To Resettle Bhutan Refugees
18 October 2006
The United States has offered to resettle up to sixty-thousand Bhutanese Lhotshampas refugees over the next three or four years. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration Ellen Sauerbrey said that the United States has had extensive consultations for years with Bhutan and Nepal in an attempt to find a comprehensive solution for the refuges. "However," she said, "as a whole generation of refugees continue to languish in refugee camps, the United States has come forward and said we are willing to resettle a very significant part of this population.
Jennifer Pagonis, spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said, "Years of bilateral negotiations between Bhutan and Nepal have made little progress resolving this issue so the opportunity of a large-scale resettlement is a real spark of hope."
The Lhotshampas are descendents of Nepalese who moved to the southern lowlands of Bhutan in the nineteenth century. The Nepali Hindu Lhotshampas remained largely distinct from Bhutan's Buddhist Druk majority.
In 1990, the Bhutanese government asserted that many Lhotsampas were not bona fide citizens of Bhutan and expelled them. Many fled to India and Nepal; more than a hundred thousand claimants to Bhutanese citizenship live now and have since 1990 in seven refugee camps in southeastern Nepal administered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees with financial support from the United States and other donors.
Bhutan continues to resist repatriation and Nepal opposes local integration of the refugees. "We have been waiting for nearly two decades to return to our homes," said Bhoompa Rai, a refugee representative. "We are still hoping that our struggle and wait will not be in vain," he said.
A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu said the U.S. "offered the refugees a home because we wanted to find a durable solution to one of the world's most protracted and most ignored refugee problems." America, he said, "has always provided a sanctuary to the homeless and dispossessed."
While the United States is open to all options - including resettlement - for providing durable solutions for the refugees, the U.S. position continues to be that the governments of Nepal and Bhutan should work together to ensure that all refugees with legitimate claims to Bhutanese citizenship who wish to return to Bhutan should be able to do so.
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.
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