UN mulling verification of Bhutanese refugees

Kumar Luintel

Damak, April 22:

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) is set to undertake the verification

process of Bhutanese refugees, which is expected to begin in the next six months in any of the seven refugee camps of Jhapa and Morang. The UNHCR is holding discussions with and consulting the representatives of Bhutanese refugees to reach a final solution. The Bhutanese refugee leaders quoted UNHCR representative to Nepal, Abraham Abraham, as saying the UNHCR had decided to initiate refugee verification. Abraham arrived in Damak three days ago to seek suggestions from the refugees living in the camps and held two separate meetings in Damak yesterday and today. The representatives, who participated in the meetings, said the refugees welcomed the decision. A participant said, “Abraham informed us about the verification process and asked us for our help in the process.”

He quoting Abraham as saying the UNHCR would encourage Nepal and Bhutan to hold talks and begin the verification process within the boundaries of international rule. The issues of repatriating willing refugees and offering other alternatives to those not wanting to return after the completion of the verification process were also discussed during the sessions.

Pratap Subba, secretary of the Shanischare refugee camp, said the focus of meeting was the slashing of UNHCR support to the refugees, but did not elaborate. UNHCR’s Kathmandu office has called Abraham’s visit to the camps a regular one. The commission’s communication officer Nini Gurung said, “The visit was as per the annual calendar.” Abraham also held meetings with secretaries of the seven refugee camps, representatives of Bhutanese political parties, women and student representatives. On the slash of UNHCR support, Abraham said there were a few problems due to the price hike, but assured that the support would continue, speaking at the Timai camp in Jhapa today. The Joint Verification Team of Nepal and Bhutan completed the verification process of refugees in the Khundabari camp of Jhapa in 2003. The JVT categorised 239 refugees as expelled Bhutanese, 8,595 as having left the country voluntarily, 2,900 as non-Bhutanese, and 347 as criminals.