06/20/2006, 00.00
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Asian refugees between despair and glimmers of hope

by Danielle Vella

On World Refugees Day, the director of the Jesuit Refugee Service remembers "with a glimmer of hope" the forgotten plight of Bhutanese refugees. By contrast, the fate of Burmese refugees in Thailand is going from bad to worse.

Rome (AsiaNews) - Recent political upheaval in Nepal may bring about a solution to the long drawn out plight of more than 100,000 Bhutanese refugees in the country, said Fr Lluis Magrina SJ, international director of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS).

As the United Nations marks World Refugee Day today, 20 June, the often forgotten Bhutanese refugees, who have been stuck in camps in eastern Nepal for over 15 years, finally have a glimmer of hope about their future prospects.

Fr Lluis Magrina SJ told AsiaNews their expectations arose from Nepal's recently attained peace. "When the king was at war with the Maoist rebels, no one was concerned about the Bhutanese refugees, they were not an urgent problem," he said. "But now that the monarch no longer has absolute power and agreement has been reached with the Maoists, we have hopes that within the next one or two years, the situation of the Bhutanese may be resolved."

Solutions in sight for the Bhutanese would most likely be local integration in Nepal or resettlement elsewhere, like India, for example.

Frustration and despair are prevalent among the Bhutanese refugees, who have been confined to seven refugee camps in Damak, eastern Nepal since 1990. The refugees claim they were thrown out of, or forced to flee, Bhutan because they are ethnic Nepalese, and although they desire repatriation, developments over the years reveal they have little chance of returning home.

JRS has accompanied this population for several years, implementing education in their camps and supporting the refugees' advocacy efforts to make their cause known at international level.

Unfortunately, other protracted refugee situations in Asia do not show any signs of improvement. Fr Magrina drew attention to thousands of people displaced from Myanmar. Huge numbers live along the Thai-Burma border, many of them in camps, where JRS runs education, pastoral and income-generating projects.

Refugees from Myanmar are usually members of ethnic groups, targeted by the military junta ruling the country, which subjects people to numerous human rights violations.

 "We do not see any solution in the near future for refugees from Myanmar," said Fr Magrina. "In recent months, an increasing number of people have been crossing to Thailand and Malaysia, because the situation in Myanmar is getting worse. If people can leave, they leave."

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