The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North

The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North
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Friday, October 27, 2006


Ellen Sauerbrey, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration, explained the U.S. proposal to resettle Bhutanese refugees to America in an op-ed that appeared October 19. 2006 in Kantipur and The Kathmandu Post newspapers.
Here is the text of that article:


Some concerns have arisen since I announced in early October that the United States is willing to resettle up to 60,000 of the Bhutanese refugees in Nepal over the next three to four years. Let’s address these worries.

First things first: The U.S. motivation is humanitarian. It is tragic that a generation of Bhutanese children has been born and raised to adulthood never knowing anything but life in a refugee camp. I know the people and the government of Nepal share this concern.

Nepal is to be commended for generously hosting the Bhutanese for nearly two decades. The United States has contributed a significant share of the assistance funding that has kept this refugee population alive over the years. But we need to go beyond sustaining and just keeping people alive and find a humane and durable solution. The U.S. offer should be understood in the context of our shared concern and effort to resolve this unfortunate situation.

The United States fully supports efforts by the Governments of Nepal and Bhutan to resolve the protracted situation of Bhutanese refugees. We have steadfastly encouraged both governments to work together, particularly to allow refugees who so wish to return to Bhutan. The United States government, working closely with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other interested governments, is part of an international effort to resolve this situation. We commend the efforts of Nepal in working with UNHCR to do a census of refugees, which is essential to identifying appropriate solutions.

Third country resettlement is one of the solutions that concerned countries, such as the United States, can offer. We do not imagine that it would be the solution for every refugee, and only those Bhutanese refugees who freely choose to resettle in the United States would be considered for our program. Again, it is our intention that it be part of a comprehensive solution to the problem, which may also include resettlement to other countries and voluntary repatriation to Bhutan. The United States continues to urge the Government of Bhutan to permit the repatriation of all refugees who have legitimate claim to Bhutanese citizenship and who wish to return to Bhutan.

It’s important for all to keep in mind that the timeline proposed for this resettlement effort is three to four years. This means from 2007 to 2010 or, more likely, 2111. This would not happen overnight.

The United States has a long tradition of offering permanent resettlement to refugees from around the world. It continues to lead the world in refugee resettlement, accepting more than 60 percent of the individuals referred by UNHCR in 2005 and admitting more refugees each year than all other resettlement countries combined. Since 1975, the U.S. has offered a permanent home to more than 2.6 million refugees. Over 40,000 refugees from 68 countries started new lives in the United States in the last year alone.

We have a long track record of successfully integrating refugees from all backgrounds. It is important to note that we select applicants for our program on the basis of applicants' need -- we do not make selections based upon level of education, job-related skills or other such criteria.

On arrival in the U.S., refugees are helped with education, language training, and job skills to give them every opportunity for a successful new beginning. Most refugees who come to the United States are able to find jobs and support their families. After five years, resettled refugees become eligible to apply for American citizenship and the vast majority embraces this opportunity.

I believe we are all in agreement that the Bhutanese refugees have been in the camps for too long and need a fresh start in life. This is an unhappy situation for them and it certainly is not desirable for Nepal, either.

The United States hopes that, working together with Nepal and the international community, we will soon make real progress on this situation, and offer new hope to the Bhutanese refugees in Nepal.

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