Nepal UN refugee agency urges officials to grant exit visas for Bhutanese

“Given the current situation in Nepal, UNHCR believes that resettlement opportunities for some Bhutanese refuges, who have been in the country for the last 15 years, should now be seized,” agency spokesman Ron Redmond said today in Geneva.Last month, Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged a truce between the Government of King Gyanendra and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) days before a ceasefire declared by the Maoist rebels in September expired on 2 January. In a statement released by his spokesman on 30 December, the Secretary-General voiced deep regret that no progress appeared to have been made towards a mutually agreed truce between the parties.About 105,000 Bhutanese refugees have been living in seven camps in the eastern region of Nepal since the early 1990s – making it one of Asia’s most protracted refugee situations. The Bhutanese fled their country after the enforcement of a 1985 Citizenship Act made life intolerable for the people of Nepalese ethnicity. Not a single refugee has returned home despite 15 rounds of inconclusive negotiations on repatriation between the two Governments since 1993. UNHCR has been excluded from the talks.A number of Western countries have recently expressed a strong interest in resettling some of the displaced Bhutanese, while the Bhutan Government had said that it would allow the return of some its citizens. UNHCR said the start of resettlement, along with the return of some refugees to Bhutan, could “pave the way for a comprehensive approach to resolving this long-standing situation.”“There are currently some very vulnerable cases submitted for resettlement to third countries, and we would hope that Nepal, which has not yet signed their exit visas, will do so shortly to ease their humanitarian plight,” Mr. Redmond said.Tensions are increasing in the camps as the Bhutanese refugees have little hope for the future, according to UNHCR. The end of the ceasefire has increased security concerns.

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