Kathmandu (AsiaNews) - "We have no work and no legal residence in Nepal. How can we send our children to school and buy food if the UN cuts aid? ". Geeta Rai, a Bhutanese refugee in Nepal, warns "if we have to die of hunger we are ready to stop receiving any support." Because of lack of funds, the UN World Food Program (WFP) announced on 16 October it would have to halve aid to refugee camps in eastern Nepal. Geeta along with 90 thousand other refugees are in danger of no longer having enough food to survive as of next January.
"We are very concerned about the consequences of the cut food rations," says Richard Ragan, WFP representative in Nepal, "without aid the most vulnerable people [children and elderly people] will be forced to eat only once a day" . Between '77 and 91, during the regime of the then King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, a campaign for the nationalization of the country took place in Bhutan, aimed at creating a state based on Buddhist culture and devoid of outside influences. For the Nepalese Hindu minority, then about one third of the population deportation across the border began, which ended in the '90s with the expulsion of about 105 thousand civilians. After 17 years they still have no legal rights in Nepal and only some of them are allowed to leave the camps to work or go to school. UN aid is the only support for them.
Teknath Rijial, leader of the refugees of Khudunabari camp, says: "If we were allowed to return to our country, we would not depend on UN aid. We still have our property in Bhutan, which the government seized after having expelled us”. The leader adds that "if we have no right to live, the UN and the Nepal should continue to send aid enough to feed us. We can not go on half empty stomachs”.
To date, the Government of Bhutan has not allowed the return of refugees despite the Democratic “turnaround” of 2008 and the various sessions of dialogue with the Nepalese authorities. To resolve the plight in November 2007 the United States and international community offered asylum to about 20 thousand refugees. More than 78 thousand people remain trapped inside the camps waiting for asylum. For many, the hope is still that of return.