UN refugee agency condemns blasts at IOM office in Nepal

News Stories, 1 July 2008

© UNHCR/J.Pagonis
The IOM compound in Damak, eastern Nepal, is right beside UNHCR's office.

KATHMANDU, Nepal, July 1 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency and its partners have condemned an overnight attack on the compound of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in eastern Nepal, and warned that continued violence could affect aid delivery to refugees from Bhutan.

On Monday evening, the office and bus parking area of the IOM in Damak, eastern Nepal, were hit by three explosions. The office, which is used to process refugees for resettlement to a third country, suffered minor damages. No one was injured. Local police are investigating.

In a joint statement, the agencies said, "IOM, UNHCR and WFP (World Food Programme) are shocked and outraged by this senseless attack, which is aimed at undermining the humanitarian efforts by the UN agencies and the international community to aid refugees from Bhutan who have been through decades of suffering in camps in eastern Nepal."

The blasts are the latest in a series of violent incidents targeting IOM Damak in recent months. In May, two IOM buses were attacked by unidentified men on the road when shuttling refugees between Khudunabari and Sanischare camps and IOM Damak for resettlement interviews and procedures.

Since the beginning of this year, some 1,350 refugees have departed for resettlement countries such as the United States, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Netherlands, New Zealand and Norway. More than 38,500 refugees have so far expressed interest in resettlement.

In total, nearly 108,000 refugees from Bhutan are living in seven camps in eastern Nepal. Some have been waiting for as long as 17 years for a chance to return home, but bilateral talks on repatriation to Bhutan have produced no results to date. To help them out of this stalemate, the international community last year agreed to resettle those who wish to start afresh in another country.

However, certain pro-repatriation groups in the camps are opposed to resettlement and have threatened others to boycott it.

"Each refugee and his or her family must have the freedom to make an informed choice on whether they would like to be considered for resettlement," stressed Daisy Dell, UNHCR's representative in Nepal. "Neither they nor the agencies helping them should be intimidated or threatened."

The refugee agency, together with IOM and WFP, has urged all concerned parties to immediately stop such cowardly attacks.

For now, refugee assistance in the camps will continue, as will the processing of resettlement cases. However, warned the agencies, "Continued intimidation and attacks on IOM may eventually have consequences on all programme delivery for the refugee operation, not just the resettlement component.