The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North

The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North
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Friday, November 10, 2006


Bhutan urged to accept refugees
By Charles Haviland
BBC News, Kathmandu

The refugees have been living in Nepal since the 1990s
The UN refugee agency has issued a new appeal to Bhutan to take back some or all of 106,000 refugees who left the country 16 years ago.

Forgotten by most of the world, the refugees from Bhutan live in camps in eastern Nepal.

They are dependent on UN food rations and officially forbidden to work.

Their native language is Nepali and they fled Bhutan around 1990, saying they were stripped of their citizenship or expelled for democracy campaigning.

Bhutan, which says it governs on the basis of "gross national happiness", says many of the refugees are not Bhutanese.

But human rights groups called their departure one of the largest ethnic expulsions in modern history.

Refugees divided

The Nepal representative of the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, Abraham Abraham, has now said he hopes and prays Bhutan will let them return and urged the isolated kingdom to let his agency operate within its borders to promote this.

Mr Abraham said repatriation was the best solution, but also said refugees should be free to consider recent offers from the United States and other Western countries to accept them as immigrants.

Such offers have bitterly split the refugee population, with some saying such resettlement is their only way out of misery, but others saying it will legitimise ethnic cleansing.

Nepal and Bhutan will shortly hold new talks on the issue.

So far Bhutan has not readmitted a single refugee, despite 15 rounds of talks.

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