Over 20,000 Bhutanese refugees resettled from Nepal

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic to whom quoted text may be attributed at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

More than 20,000 refugees from Bhutan have now left Nepal to begin new lives in third countries under one of UNHCR's largest resettlement programmes.

The resettlement of refugees from Bhutan from the seven camps in eastern Nepal began in November 2007, with strong support from the Government of Nepal, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and resettlement countries. These refugees had come to Nepal from Bhutan in the early 1990's, fleeing ethnic tensions.

The 20,000th refugee from Bhutan to be resettled was eight-year-old Sita Budhathoki who left Nepal Monday with her parents and siblings for Des Moines, Iowa, in the United States. The US has received the highest number of refugees from Bhutan, with 17,612 resettled there to date. They have gone to states such as Texas, New York, Georgia, Arizona, Pennsylvania, and California among others.

Other countries offering new homes to Bhutanese refugees include Australia (846), Canada (674), Norway (299), New Zealand (294), Denmark (172) and The Netherlands (122).

More than 78,000 refugees have expressed an interest in resettlement so far and a further 5,000 are expected to leave Nepal for third countries by the end of the year.

In Nepal's camps, UNHCR continues to provide information to refugees about resettlement and other options, so they can make an informed decision about their future. The agency organizes regular information sessions, focus groups and individual counseling. Special information programmes are organized for marginalised and vulnerable refugees. Refugees are also offered English language classes and vocational and skills training to help prepare for the lives in a new country.

Alongside the international community, UNHCR continues to advocate for the option of voluntary return to Bhutan for those refugees who wish to do so. Some 91,000 refugees from Bhutan remain in Nepal. Many have lived in exile for more than 18 years.