UN refugee agency launches information campaign for Bhutanese refugees

16 August 2005

The United Nations refugee agency this week launched an information campaign to warn Bhutanese refugees trying to go home from camps in eastern Nepal about the pitfalls of trying to make the trip alone.

"We are hoping this two-week-long information campaign will help the refugees understand the real risks and consequences of trying to return outside the framework of an agreement between the Nepalese and Bhutanese governments," the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) representative in Nepal, Abraham Abraham said in a statement.

On 3 August, about 300 refugees at the Beldangi camps attempted to cross the Nepal-India border about 45 kilometres from the camps to return to Bhutan. They were stopped by the Indian security forces and became stranded. Some were stoned by unknown elements, sustaining light injuries. Later, the refugees were returned to the camps by the Nepalese authorities.

Levels of frustration among the 105,000 Bhutanese refugees in the seven camps in Nepal are increasing after 15 years of living in exile. The refugees were forcibly evicted from Bhutan in the early 1990s and since 1993 there have been 15 rounds of inconclusive negotiations on repatriation between the two governments.

"We certainly recognize the refugees' rising frustration and disillusionment with the bilateral process from which we have been totally excluded," said Mr. Abraham. "But any uncoordinated return movement, like the one on 3 August, will be seen as a provocative and unilateral act on the part of refugees. And, an unfortunate consequence will be that political support – a prerequisite for a safe and dignified return of the refugees – will not be forthcoming."

The UNHCR information campaign started with an interactive session in Beldangi I refugee camp, the camp from which the largest number of refugees participated in the recent attempt to return.


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