37 Bhutanese Refugees Depart Nepal for UK

Thirty-seven Bhutanese refugees living in Nepal left Monday for the United Kingdom as part of the third-country resettlement programme. They were selected following an offer by the British government in November 2009 to take up 100 refugees for the resettlement in the UK in 2010.

"We are extremely grateful to the government of UK for this offer and appreciate the speed of the response by the UK government - with this first group of refugees departing only some eight months after the offer was made," said Stéphane Jaquemet, UNHCR Representative in Nepal.

Hundreds of thousands of ethnic Nepalese — a Hindu minority in Bhutan for centuries — were forced out of Bhutan in the early 1990s. They have lived as refugees in Nepal ever since. Bhutan refuses to allow the refugees to return, saying most left voluntarily and renounced their citizenship. Nepal — worried about the cost of integrating them into society — has refused to offer them citizenship.

Relations between Nepal and Bhutan have been strained over the issue. Several rounds of talks were held over the last decade but no significant progress was made.

Britain is the eighth nation to take in Bhutanese refugees. So far 32,000 have left for Western countries, most to the United States.

Over 34,500 refugees from Bhutan have departed to the United States and other countries since the launch of the resettlement programme by UNHCR in November 2007.

Some information for this report was provided by CanadianPress and HimalayanTimes