Vulnerable refugees from Bhutan spearhead resettlement from Nepal

News Stories, 10 March 2008

© UNHCR/V.Tan
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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Resettlement

An alternative for those who cannot go home, made possible by UNHCR and governments.

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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.

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This gallery highlights the history of UNHCR's efforts to help some of the world's most disenfranchised people to find a place called home, whether through repatriation, resettlement or local integration.

After decades of hospitality after World War II, as the global political climate changed and the number of people cared for by UNHCR swelled from around one million in 1951, to more than 27 million people in the mid-1990s, the welcome mat for refugees was largely withdrawn.

Voluntary repatriation has become both the preferred and only practical solution for today's refugees. In fact, the great majority of them choose to return to their former homes, though for those who cannot do so for various reasons, resettlement in countries like the United States and Australia, and local integration within regions where they first sought asylum, remain important options.

This gallery sees Rwandans returning home after the 1994 genocide; returnees to Kosovo receiving reintegration assistance; Guatemalans obtaining land titles in Mexico; and Afghans flocking home in 2003 after decades in exile.

A Place to Call Home(Part 2): 1996 - 2003

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