(AFP) – Mar 9, 2008
KATHMANDU (AFP) — The first of more than 100,000 Bhutanese refugees languishing in camps in southern Nepal for more than 15 years have begun to leave for overseas resettlement, officials said Monday.
Refugees classed as "vulnerable" by the United Nations have been leaving without publicity since January, Kim Roberson from the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees told AFP.
"Their safety in their own community may not be assured, they may need medical or social care," she said and would not reveal where they went.
However, "some people will leave Monday and we would like to see between 40 to 60 people leave in the next two weeks, to Denmark, Canada, Norway, the United States and New Zealand," Roberson added.
In October 2006, the United States offered to take some 60,000 of the 107,000 refugees who live in seven camps in southern Nepal, and around 23,000 refugees have since applied.
The people leaving in the next two weeks are not a part of the US offer to resettle 60,000 people, the UN official said.
"We expect the larger numbers of refugees who will be part of the US offer to start leaving by the end of the month," Roberson said.
Ethnically Nepali refugees began crossing a narrow strip of India into Nepal in the early 1990s, when Bhutan's government introduced reforms promoting the national dress and language.
Since then, the refugees have lived in UN-funded camps close to Nepal's border with India.
Earlier this month, a fire blazed through one of the camps, making around 10,000 people homeless, and the United Nations has said it urgently needs half-a-million-dollars of immediate relief supplies.
Although thousands have already registered for resettlement, some refugee leaders in the camps want increased pressure applied to Bhutan to allow them to return to the Buddhist kingdom, where many still have homes and land.
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