09/09/2009, 00.00
BHUTAN – NEPAL
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International community takes in 20,000 refugees from Bhutan

UN agency and other organisations have been working on behalf of Bhutan’s 100,000 Nepali refugees in order to find a solution to their plight.
Kathmandu (AsiaNews/Agencies) – More than 20,000 Bhutanese refugees have already left camps in Nepal for Western countries since November 2007, the Office of the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) announced on Tuesday. Their resettlement is part of a programme to find a home to more than 100,000 Bhutanese refugees, originally from Nepal, expelled from their country.

“IOM has an established infrastructure and trained professionals to facilitate the departure of 2,000 refugees every month. We anticipate more than 25,000 refugees will depart Nepal by the end of this year,” said Sarat Dash, IOM Chief of Mission in Nepal.

Between 1977 and 1991 then Bhutanese King Jigme Singye Wangchuck pursued a campaign to build a society based exclusively on Buddhist culture, free from foreign influences.

For this reason the country’s Nepalese minority—about a third of the population—was gradually deported across the border into Nepal, ending with the expulsion of 105,000 civilians.

For almost 20 years the deportees were unable to be re-integrated into Nepal because the Nepali government refused to grant them citizenship. Instead they were forced to live in prison-like camps along the Nepali-Bhutanese border.

In November 2007 the US government offered to grant political asylum to 60,000 refugees. Since then 17,609 were brought to the United States. Another 2,409 found a home in Australia, Canada, Norway, New Zealand, Denmark and the Netherlands.   

For the past three years IMO has been working to facilitate the integration of these refugees in their future countries, providing health checks, language and vocational training, and courses on Western culture.

Still more than 78,000 people are stuck in camps waiting to leave. Many still hope to go back to their ancestral homeland.

In 2008 28-year-old Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck was officially crowned king of Bhutan. This opened the door to a possible solution alternative for the refugees in Nepal.

But so far the Bhutanese government has agreed only to democratise. As part of this shift it is planning to re-open 15 schools and build new health facilities on the border region where some Nepali Bhutanese still live.

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