The United Nations refugee agency today said it was extremely concerned over a violent clash between Bhutanese refugees and Indian police, and expressed its sadness at the death of one Bhutanese and the injury of several others.
Beginning on Monday, thousands of Bhutanese refugees residing in camps in eastern Nepal began a march to exercise their right to return to their homeland, but violence ensued on Tuesday when refugees clashed with Indian police on the Mechi bridge dividing India and Nepal.
“Although we still do not have all of the details of what transpired, there is no justification for such violence and loss of life,” said Abraham Abraham, the Nepal representative for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. “This is a terrible tragedy and our condolences go to all the families of those who died and were injured.”
Roughly 107,000 Bhutanese refugees have been living in seven camps in eastern Nepal since the introduction of strict citizenship laws in their home country 16 years ago. Dissatisfaction has been growing among the refugees, who are unable to work outside the camps in which they reside, as they have seen no solution to their situation since arriving in Nepal in the early 1990s.
“We are indeed extremely concerned by the latest developments and fully understand the increasing frustration of the refugees about the lack of progress on repatriation,” Mr. Abraham said.
UNHCR has dispatched representatives as well as a medical team to the border town of Kakarbhitta to assess the situation.
Echoing the Government’s call, UNHCR appealed to the refugees to return to their camps and urged all parties to abstain from resorting to violence.
“For security to prevail and for normalcy to return it is paramount that the civilian character of the camps is maintained,” Mr. Abraham said.
The situation in the Bhutanese camps in Nepal was reportedly calm today and the curfew in them has been lifted by the Government, after separate recent clashes there left two people dead.
Fighting broke out between groups of refugees with differing opinions over third country resettlement, and that police intervened to curb the violence and to maintain law and order.
Last week, High Commissioner António Guterres, during a visit to Nepal and Bhutan, told the refugees that they had the freedom to choose whether to resettle, and urged refugees to respect others’ freedom of choice.
He also assured them that he would make every effort to ensure that as many doors as possible would be opened in terms of a lasting solution to their plight, including voluntary repatriation.
UNHCR – which supports the right of the Bhutanese refugees to repatriate – invites all sides to engage in an open discussion to find a peaceful solution to the issue.