Refugees from Bhutan get first ID cards in Nepal's camps
SANISCHARE CAMP, Nepal, December 10 (UNHCR) - The government of Nepal and the UN refugee agency on Monday started a massive operation to distribute identity cards to the refugees from Bhutan living in seven camps in eastern Nepal, a move that will improve protection and assistance for some 108,000 registered refugees.
Issued by the Nepalese government, the photo ID cards are a follow up to the refugee population census that was conducted with UNHCR support in the camps from November 2006 to May 2007. All registered refugees aged 16 years and above will receive the free-of-charge cards.
The first cards were distributed on Monday in Sanischare camp in Morang district. A huge crowd of all ages gathered in the camp's playground to witness the watershed event.
"Although Nepal is not signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, it has been hosting refugees for decades on its soil," said Umesh Mainali, the home secretary of Nepal's Ministry of Home Affairs. "The government of Nepal will always work for the right of refugees and the first step in this is the issuance of identity cards to the refugees in the camps. To have an identity document is the right of the refugees."
Abraham Abraham, UNHCR's representative in Nepal, added: "ID cards are an important protection tool, because the most basic element of refugee protection is to prove one's identity in order to be able to readily access protection and assistance services. The cards would also ensure efficient and accountable distribution as well as better monitoring of assistance, in that it reaches the right person."
Gajman Gurung was one of the first refugees to get the ID card in Sanischare camp. "I am happy that at least now I have an identity, although it is as a refugee. It is going to assist in my protection as well as that of my family," he said.
"I know that the ID card will be very useful to me and my family," said Nar Bahadur Sarki, a father of two in the camp. "The good thing is that my wife and each of my children have their own identity card. It is particularly helpful for my son who goes to college outside the camp. The card will facilitate his movement in and out of the camp."
The ID cards will be issued on a camp-by-camp basis over the next few months. Registered refugees living outside the camps will receive their cards once the camp distribution is completed.
By Nini Gurung in Sanischare camp, Nepal