The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North

The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North
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Friday, May 18, 2007

Bhutan Refugees Said Split on U.S. Offer

Associated Press Writer
Bhutanese refugees long stranded at camps in Nepal are divided over a U.S. offer to resettle thousands of them, with those wanting to hold out for a return to Bhutan threatening those in favor of immigrating to America, a rights group said Thursday.

More than 100,000 ethnic Nepalis - a Hindu minority in Bhutan for centuries - have been stranded for nearly two decades in neighboring Nepal because of strained relations between the two Himalayan kingdoms.

Bhutan, the world's last Buddhist kingdom, is slowly moving toward democracy but the country sandwiched between India and China refuses to allow the refugees to return, claiming most left voluntarily and renounced their citizenship.

Most of the refugees fled Bhutan in the late 1980s, when the country's government, dominated by the majority Drukpa ethnic group, accused the minority Lothsampa group of being illegal immigrants. Talks between Nepal and Bhutan on the refugee issue produced no breakthrough.

The result has been a festering stalemate that Washington tried in part to resolve last year by offering to resettle thousands of refugees.

Ellen Sauerbrey, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for refugee affairs, said in October that the United States is prepared to take in 50,000 to 60,000 of the Bhutanese refugees. She also said that Australia and Canada also have indicated they would be willing to resettle many of them.

Human Rights Watch said in a report released Thursday that the U.S. offer has divided the refugees, with those who see resettlement as a capitulation to Bhutan threatening violence against those who want to move to America.

There has been no violence so far, but 'fear among the refugees is widespread and most are extremely reluctant to express an interest in the resettlement offer publicly,' the New York-based group said.

Those in favor of moving to the U.S. say resettlement offers the best option for themselves and their children, according to the report.

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