Vulnerable refugees from Bhutan spearhead resettlement from Nepal

News Stories, 10 March 2008

Tired of waiting, young refugees in an eastern Nepal camp could embrace a new life by resettling to a third country.

KATHMANDU, Nepal, March 10 (UNHCR) Dozens of vulnerable refugees from Bhutan are set to leave their camps in eastern Nepal during the coming weeks for a fresh start in another country. Larger groups are expected to follow towards the end of the month.

Small numbers of extremely vulnerable refugees have been resettled since January this year from Nepal's camps to third countries such as the United States and Norway. They include disabled refugees, women and children at risk and those with special medical needs and protection concerns in the camps.

"These initial groups were referred for resettlement for specific protection reasons and have been in process for a number of years," said Kimberly Roberson, UNHCR's senior durable solutions officer in the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu. "Because of their delicate situation, we've tried to keep a very low profile in order to protect their identity, even after resettlement."

The current departures are separate from the group resettlement option negotiated by the Core Group of countries last year. Under the latter arrangement, the United States has offered to consider at least 60,000 refugees for resettlement and Canada has indicated it will accept up to 5,000. Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Norway have also indicated their willingness to accept refugees from Bhutan for resettlement.

The aim is to offer a way out for some of the more than 107,000 refugees from Bhutan who have been living in seven camps in eastern Nepal since the early 1990s. Many of them have been waiting for the chance to repatriate to Bhutan, but are getting increasingly frustrated after 17 years of inconclusive bilateral talks between the governments of Nepal and Bhutan.

The group resettlement process started last November with a mass information campaign by UNHCR staff in the seven camps. Tens of thousands of refugees have expressed interest so far, and the UN refugee agency has submitted some 11,000 names for consideration by resettlement countries. The process is long, involving in-depth interviews, background checks, medical screening and cultural orientation.

The first groups, totalling over 100 refugees, are expected to leave in the last week of March, mostly for the US.




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Between February and October 2011, more than 1 million people crossed into Tunisia to escape conflict in Libya. Most were migrant workers who made their way home or were repatriated, but the arrivals included refugees and asylum-seekers who could not return home or live freely in Tunisia.

UNHCR has been trying to find solutions for these people, most of whom ended up in the Choucha Transit Camp near Tunisia's border with Libya. Resettlement remains the most viable solution for those registered as refugees at Choucha before a cut-off date of December 1, 2011.

As of late April, 14 countries had accepted 2,349 refugees for resettlement, 1,331 of whom have since left Tunisia. The rest are expected to leave Choucha later this year. Most have gone to Australia, Norway and the United States. But there are a more than 2,600 refugees and almost 140 asylum-seekers still in the camp. UNHCR continues to advocate with resettlement countries to find solutions for them.

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The family fled to Lebanon where they shared a small flat with Ahmad's two brothers and sisters and their children. Ahmad found sporadic work which kept them going, but he knew that in Lebanon his six-year-old son, Abdu, who was born deaf, would have little chance for help.

The family was accepted by Germany's Humanitarian Assistance Programme and resettled into the small central German town of Wächtersbach, near Frankfurt am Main. Nestled in a valley between two mountain ranges and a forest, the village has an idyllic feel.

A year on, Abdu has undergone cochlear implant surgery for the second time. He now sports two new hearing aids which, when worn together, allow him to hear 90 per cent. He has also joined a regular nursery class, where he is learning for the first time to speak - German in school and now Arabic at home. Ahmed is likewise studying German in a nearby village, and in two months he will graduate with a language certificate and start looking for work. He says that he is proud at how quickly Abdu is learning and integrating.

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