Saturday, November 3, 2007

Refugee resettlement starts next week (

The United States will start the resettlement process for Bhutanese refugees next week, according to visiting US Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration Ellen Sauerbrey.

"Department of Homeland Security officers will come next week to take interviews," Sauerbrey said at a press meet organized Saturday at the American Embassy here. She had returned to the capital after visiting a couple of refugee camps.

Sauerbrey said that if everything moves ahead smoothly, the first plane load of Bhutanese refugees would land on American soil in January 2008.

"We have no limit on the number of refugees we will accept," she said. There are about 108,000 Bhutanese refugees in the seven camps in Nepal.

According to Sauerbrey, some 3,000 Bhutanese refugees have already expressed interest in resettlement. Once the US resettlement program begins, it will operate for at least five years, depending on how many Bhutanese refugees express interest.

'PM made strong request'

Sauerbrey said that Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala made a "strong request" to pressure Bhutan to take her people back during their meeting Saturday morning.

She added that after reaching Bhutan on Sunday, she would talk to Bhutanese officials about the possibility of repatriation.

"The first goal of any refugee is to go home. However, after 17 years of effort, the US felt that the refugees should be given an alternative," she said.

But the US will continue to press Bhutan for repatriation, she said.

Referring to queries by refugees during her visit to the camps about the possibility of the US coercing Bhutan to take back the refugees, she said, "Bhutan is a sovereign country. We can't force them."

Responding to a query whether resettling the Bhutanese refugees would encourage the Druk regime to drive out more people, she said that since the Bhutanese have to travel through India to reach Nepal, India has to be very cognizant that such an incident does not take place.

Efforts on to resettle Tibetan refugees

Sauerbrey also said that the US would continue its effort to resettle 5,000 Tibetan refugees in the US. For resettling refugees, the host country, Nepal, has to cooperate, she said.

The issue of resettling Tibetan refugees was raised during her meeting with the prime minister. However, the prime minister said that since a major project is underway in the form of resettlement of Bhutanese refugees, the issue of Tibetan refugees could be discussed later, according to Sauerbrey.

After Bhutan, Sauerbrey will visit India. There she will pay a visit to Dharmashala to get in touch with the Tibetan community.

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