The international community is working actively with the Nepalese government to help resettle thousands of Bhutanese refugees in Europe and North America, with the USA alone accepting at least 60,000 refugees, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
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In addition, thousands of refugees will also get the chance to resettle in Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Norway, which have indicated their willingness to accept the Bhutanese refugees, said senior UNHCR officials.
“Now finally, here is our new chance of living with dignity,” refugee Ashok Gurung told IRIN in Kathmandu on 4 February. He said most of the 107,000 Bhutanese refugees are enthusiastic about resettling in third countries and many have already started applying for resettlement.
Since 1990 Bhutanese citizens of Nepalese origin - also known as `Lhotsampas’ in Bhutan - have been living in refugee camps in Jhapa District, nearly 500km southeast of Kathmandu, after they were evicted from their homes by the Bhutanese government which introduced a law stripping them of citizenship and civil rights due to their ancestry.
New confidence among refugees
“The refugees are no longer in a dilemma over the options offered to them by the UNHCR,” said another Bhutanese refugee, Thakur Prasad Mishra, who is also editor of the Bhutan News Service, an independent news agency run by Bhutanese refugee journalists.
Mishra said there was new confidence among refugees that they would be allowed to leave their camps easily, after the recent announcement by the Nepalese government that it would issue exit visas to Bhutanese refugees who voluntarily opted for resettlement.
“There is also less fear of applying for resettlement because the number of applicants is growing a lot,” said Mishra explaining how the refugees are constantly living in fear of being attacked by those who oppose resettlement and who are campaigning for repatriation to Bhutan.
These groups include Communist Party of Bhutan, Marxist-Leninist-Maoist, Bhutan Tigers Force and Cobra whose leaders are all underground and operate from outside the camps, according to refugees who requested anonymity.
Refugees told IRIN that while they may not be totally happy about resettling in foreign countries this seemed to be the only immediate solution to easing their difficult and hard lives. “This is just one step for us but not always a durable solution,” said Mishra.
“I’m ready to go”
The UNHRC said it had already submitted details of nearly 10,000 refugees for consideration by resettlement countries; all were in various stages of the process, from interviews to extensive medical screening and cultural orientation before departure.
“I’m ready to go and so are thousands of other Bhutanese refugees as this could be our only solution to the humanitarian problems that we are currently facing,” said Gurung.
Refugees suffer from health problems, depression, financial hardship, lack of jobs and are dependent on humanitarian aid for everything, they told IRIN.
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