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.