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Bhutanese refugees refuse to give up strike

[Nepal] Bhutanese refugees have been staging their strike for over three months and are not ready to call it off until their problems are resolved. [Date picture taken: 08/28/2006]
Bhutanese refugees have been staging their strike for over three months and are not ready to call it off until their problems are resolved (Naresh Newar/IRIN)

Bhutanese refugees in Nepal say they will continue their indefinite strike in the capital, Kathmandu, despite appeals by human rights activists to call it off for humanitarian reasons.

The refugees have been living in Nepal since 1990 when they were evicted from their homes by the Bhutanese government. It introduced a new citizenship law that deprived the group, most of whom have Nepalese ancestry, of citizenship and civil rights.

Most of the refugees live in seven camps in the Morang and Jhapa districts of eastern Nepal, nearly 800 km from Kathmandu.

The Bhutanese and Nepalese governments have had more than 15 rounds of bilateral negotiations to resolve the situation but the refugees remain in the camps, where they receive humanitarian aid from the office of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), the World Food Programme (WFP) and local charities.

The refugees, in an attempt to draw international attention to their plight and put pressure on the Bhutanese government to have direct talks with their representatives, have been conducting a sit-in protest in front of the United Nations office in Kathmandu for more than three months.

Following an appeal from Nepalese human rights and citizens society groups, the refugee leaders agreed on Sunday to suspend the strike temporarily.

[Nepal] Country Map.

[Nepal] Country Map.
Tuesday, January 11, 2005
Government steps in to stop Nepalganj violence
[Nepal] Country Map.
Most of the refugees live in seven camps in the Morang and Jhapa districts of eastern Nepal

However, on Monday some of the refugees who have spent more than 100 days on strike said they did not want to give up.

Bhim Adhikari, who has become weak and sick, said they objected to the decision made by their leaders without consultation.

“We have already endured so much all this time and we will go on even if takes a year for our problems to be resolved,” Adhikari said.

The refugees said the strike had caught the attention of Washington. A delegation from the US House of Representatives led by Jim Kolbe, which arrived in the Himalayan kingdom on 25 August to assess the political situation, had visited a refugee camp in Beldangi in the Jhapa District, 700 km east of Kathmandu.

Kolbe’s group said on Monday that the Bhutanese refugees were living a miserable life and that it was also scheduled to visit Bhutan for talks with its government.

Ram Lal Subedi, a refugee who said those on strike were running out of supplies, said the international community had to do more than offer kind words.

Budda Mani Dhakal, another refugee, said the situation was dragging on too long.

“We were so sure that this strike would not last for more than six weeks but it has now been more than 100 days,” Dhakal said.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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