Following an attack on 300 Bhutanese refugees trying to go home from camps in eastern Nepal, the United Nations refugee agency said today it is launching an information campaign to discourage others from attempting to return on their own.
"While we understand the acute desire of the refugees to return home after 15 years in exile, and their frustration that 15 rounds of bilateral negotiations between Bhutan and Nepal have failed to see a single refugee return, our concern is for their well being and that they are not given false hopes and manipulated," said Jennifer Pagonis, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Geneva.
It appears that some of the 300 refugees who tried to cross the Nepal/India Border were intimidated to take part in the unofficial return and had been falsely told it was organised by UNHCR. They were turned back by Indian security forces and some were pelted with stones by unknown persons, causing light injuries. After becoming stranded at the border, the refugees were returned to the Beldangi refugee camps by the Nepalese authorities.
In its information campaign, UNHCR will clarify that it is not organizing repatriations, and that by trying to return on their own, refugees could be exposed to physical harm.
The Bhutanese refugee situation is one of the longest running refugee situations in Asia. There are some 105,000 Bhutanese refugees in seven camps in eastern Nepal. UNHCR has always been excluded from the bilateral negotiations on their eventual return to Bhutan, but continues to advocate strongly for a comprehensive solution to the situation, which is almost at the point of seeing second-generation refugee children.