7,000 refugees may fly to US by Sept 2008

US names IOM as OPE in Nepal

Kathmandu, July 28:

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM), which was selected as the Overseas Processing Entity (OPE) to assist in the screening of the Bhutanese refugees before they migrate to the United States (US), has started setting up delayed operations in Damak.

However, “significant processing” of the applications will start only at the end of September, while only 7,000 Bhutanese refugees have a chance of flying to the US by September 2008.

This indicates that the task of processing 60,000 refugees from the total of 107 thousand, which the US expressed willingness to take, could take about nine years.

The process of screening the refugees by hiring a specialised agency goes back

to February last and is running behind by a month due to what has been described as the “unsettled” conditions in refugee camps in Damak.

Going by the initial schedule, the task of setting up the operations was supposed to get underway by July 1 before the OPE “assumed responsibility for the small existing caseload by Wednesday, August 1.”

This has translated into a delay by one month from September 1, a deadline by which the IOM was initially scheduled to start what has been identified as the “significant processing.”

“The agency which was selected to process the cases is IOM. It was initially scheduled to start operations earlier on, but unstable conditions in Damak ruled that out. The task of setting up operations is going on now,” spokesperson for the US embassy in Kathmandu, Sharon Hudson-Dean, told The Himalayan Times.

Sharon-Dean also said that “since the process is a lengthy affair, not more than 7,000 refugees may get to enter the US by September 2008, indicating that the prospect of the 107 thousand Bhutanese refugees starting a new life in the US could take “several years.” The IOM was selected as the OPE by the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, Office of Admissions, under the US Department of State to facilitate migration of the refugees from Nepal to the US earlier in the year following a process which got underway on February 1.

The bureau has entered into what has been identified as a “cooperative” agreement with the IOM for the period from July 1, 2007 to June 30, 2008, with the guarantee to renew the same for any number of years.