Kathmandu (Fides Service) – A call for an International Conference between the governments of Bhutan and Nepal and the UN High Commission for Refugees UNHCR to find a lasting solution to the 12 year crisis of Bhutanese refugees in Nepal was launched by the Jesuit Refugees Service (JRS) in Nepal. This Catholic service assists refugees in many different parts of the world. In a coalition of various NGOs including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, JRS denounces the failure of the most recent session of meetings in late October in Thimpu, the capital of Bhutan, between the governments of Bhutan and Nepal to address the problem of refugees. The governments called the meeting “a historical step forward” but “none the less – says JRS – the talks ignored concern expressed by the international community and failed in the intent”. The JRS says the situation is alarming because these refugee camps fail to guarantee respect for standards relative to human rights and refugee rights.
More than 100.000 Bhutanese refugees – about one sixth of the entire population – have lived in camps in south east Nepal since the early 1990s when they were expelled from Bhutan for political motives (as supporters of opposition to the monarchy) and ethnic motives (because of their Nepalese culture). After years of stalemate, in March 2001 the governments of Bhutan and Nepal agreed to conduct a pilot survey among about 12,000 refugees hosted in Kudunabari camp to ascertain their identity and eligibility to return to Bhutan.
The results of the survey were that 70% had presumably left Bhutan willingly and would have make a new request for citizenship; 24% was classified as non-Bhutanese and 3% – including persons who had taken part in so-called “anti-national activity” in Bhutan – as refugees who had committed “criminal acts”.
At the beginning of November UNHCR announced a programme to assist these people in refugee camps. (PA) (Fides Service 12/11/2003 lines 34 words 358)