Damak, December 10:

After 17 years of sheltering in camps in Jhapa and Morang districts, Bhutanese refugees are finally getting identity cards from Nepal government.

Speaking at a programme today at Sanishchare camp in Morang district, Home Secretary Umesh Mainali handed over identity cards to 19 persons from five families in the camp saying these cards would facilitate easy identification of refugees and streamline the process of keeping statistical records about them.

Garjaman Gurung, Narbahadur Sarki, Harilal Subedi, Dhanman Magar and Devicharan Dhungel and their respective family members received the identity cards. The cards were distributed as a follow-up to the UNHCR’s headcount of the refugees that had begun last November and finished this May.

Home Secretary Mainali said those above 16 years of age would be issued the identity cards. Card distribution would be finished within five months, he informed. Stating that third-country settlement was an option open to the refugees, he said that they were under no pressure from any quarter to choose it. He added that the government was holding dialogue at the diplomatic level for the refugees’ repatriation also.

“The government wants that the refugees return to their own country in a peaceful and negotiated manner. However, the option of third country settlement is open to any refugee who might wish to opt for it,” said Mainali. He added that repatriation or third country settlement would not be possible without the cooperation of the UN and its related wings.

Speaking on the occasion, Nepal chief of UNHCR Abraham Abraham said, “We also want the refugees returned to Bhutan but 17 years have pas-sed and not a single refugee has been repatriated. Matters remain complicated.” He urged the refugees to co-exist in harmony with the community outside the camps.