Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Nepal: Mission to assess plight of Bhutanese refugees

Source: www.reliefweb.int

Refugees International is joining with the Open Society Institute to conduct an assessment mission focusing on the plight of Bhutanese refugees in Nepal for ten days in late September and early October. The refugees, who are of Nepali ethnicity and are known as Lhotshampas, fled persecution in the isolated kingdom of Bhutan in the early 1990s. They number approximately 107,000 and live in camps in eastern Nepal.

Over the years there have been several attempts by interested donor governments, including the United States, and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to negotiate a solution to this protracted problem. At one point the governments of Nepal and Bhutan appeared to reach an agreement that would have allowed some refugees to return, but this agreement was never implemented after an initial effort to categorize the refugees and their reasons for leaving. In recent months the focus has been on the possibility of resettling large numbers of refugees in third countries, with the U.S. taking the lead in offering 60,000 potential resettlement slots over a four-year period. But Bhutanese political parties in the camps are insisting that return is the only possible option and are discouraging individuals expressing an interest in return. In the meantime, Nepal continues to oppose steps towards local integration in the areas around the camps.

The joint RI/OSI mission will involve discussions with international organizations, local non-governmental organizations, and refugee rights activists from the community in Kathmandu and Jhapa. The focus will be on developing new, practical ways to overcome the obstacles to a solution for the long-suffering refugees. While the primary focus of the follow-up advocacy will be in the region, the team will share potential solutions with the U.S. refugee bureau and UNHCR.

No comments: