Bhutanese residing as refugees in Nepal are calling on their country's government to let them come back home. The refugees want their plight to be part of the agenda of a summit slated to be held in Bhutan later this week.
Bhutan is hosting the 16th South Asian Association for Regional Development summit this Wednesday and Thursday.
Leading up to the summit, a press conference was held by the South Asian Alliance for Poverty Eradication in Nepal Sunday, calling on this week’s conference to address the plight of Bhutanese refugees.
[Babu Mathews, Spokesperson, SAAPE]: English
"The main message is this issue should be item number one on the official agenda. You must take steps in order that refugees can return to their homeland; you must set-up a South Asian Refugee Commission."
Elderly Bhutanese refugees residing in Nepal also demanded they be allowed back to their homeland.
[Bhampa Rai, Chairman, BERRC]: English
"We request the government of Bhutan, since we are the real Bhutanese, bona-fide Bhutanese, and government of Bhutan has accepted by… categorization, government of Bhutan must accept, must allow us to go back to Bhutan."
About 90,000 refugees of ethnic Nepali origin live in United Nations-supervised camps in southeast Nepal.
They began to flee Bhutan in the early 1990s, alleging human rights violations and discrimination.
With no legal right to work or own land, the exiles are almost entirely dependent on food aid given by the United Nations.
Nepal and neighboring Bhutan have failed to repatriate all the refugees despite several rounds of talks that have strained relations between the two South Asian nations.
About 20,000 refugees have been resettled in several Western countries including Australia, under a third country resettlement program launched two years ago.