Govt assures Bhutanese refugees of ‘concrete steps’

Himalayan News Service

Kathmandu, June 1:

The government has assured Bhutanese refugees it will take “concrete steps” to resume bilateral talks with the government of Bhutan in order to find a sustainable solution to the refugee crisis.

The steps will be taken after the to-be-scheduled 13th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit to be held in Dhaka. The minister for Home Affairs, Dan Bahadur Shahi, today said this to a delegation of Bhutanese refugees from the seven refugee camps in eastern Nepal. The eight-member delegation met the minister to draw the government’s attention to problems that refugees have been facing for the last 15 years. Stating that the government is closely observing the Bhutanese refugees’ problems, a member of the delegation, Tahal Man Rana said, “He (Shahi) assured us the government will take solid measures after the SAARC summit.”

Shahi also talked about the existing “practical and diplomatic” difficulties of the government in dealing with the Bhutan government, which has been refusing to hedging on account of self-stated security reasons. The delegation is in Kathmandu since the last few days and has already met the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ramesh Nath Pandey, and country representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee (UNHCR), Abraham Abraham. “After listening to the ministers, we understood there are limitations to the Nepal government’s bid to end problems, but it doesn’t mean that nothing can be done,” said Rana, “The government is concerned with early repatriation of the verified refugees.”

After the delegation returns to the camps in Jhapa and Morang, it will plan other measures to create pressure on both the government and the international community. The delegation had submitted an appeal with signatures from 60,000 refugees to UNHCR for their safe repatriation to Bhutan, and also for seeking an alternative for those who can’t return home as a result of the Bhutan government’s conditions. The bilateral meeting between Nepal and Bhutan in October 2003 had agreed to begin the repatriation of refugees at the Khudunabari camp, but the process could not move forward after the refugees at the camp and Bhutanese officials had differences on December 23 that year.

UNHCR now is planning specific and targeted assistance to the needy. “We conveyed it to the UNHCR representative, Abraham, that fund-cutting will make the refugees’ life uncertain,” said the Bhutanese delegation members.