February 10th, 2010
KATHMANDU – With the 16th summit of South Asian heads of states just over two months away, Nepal Wednesday asked Bhutan to take back the Bhutanese refugees who have been languishing in Nepal for nearly two decades.
Nepal Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal emphasised that the government of Bhutan must allow the refugees to return home as he held a meeting with Bhutan Finance Minister Lyonpo Wangdi Norbu in Kathmandu Wednesday, the prime minister’s office said in a statement.
The Bhutanese minister arrived in Nepal as the special envoy of Bhutanese Prime Minister Jigme Thinley to invite Nepal to the 16th Summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).
Land-locked Bhutan will be hosting the summit for the first time. The two-day meet, to be attended by the heads of the eight member states, will be held in Bhutanese capital Thimhpu from April 28.
“Nepal will also raise the issue of the repatriation of the Bhutanese refugees on the sidelines of the summit,” the Nepal premier’s media advisor Bishnu Rijal told IANS.
Over 100,000 Bhutanese refugees, mostly of Nepali-origin, have been living in eastern Nepal for nearly two decades after they were forced to leave Bhutan due to changes in the Bhutanese government’s policies.
Despite several rounds of bilateral talks between Nepal and Bhutan for the repatriation of the refugees, Bhutan refused to agree to take them back.
Finally, the US and other western countries stepped in, offering new homes on their soils to the rejected refugees.
Almost 25,000 refugees accepted the offer and left the camps for western shores after repatriation talks broke down without any progress.
Now almost 80,000 more refugees are ready to exit from the camps in eastern Nepal where they have been leading a spartan life under UN supervision.
The Nepal prime minister told the Bhutan envoy that third-country settlement could not resolve the refugee problem.
There were growing cases of suicide by the Bhutanese refugees after their relocation and the issue was growing more complicated, Nepal told Norbu, the PMO statement said.
The Bhutanese envoy said he would convey the concern to his government, the statement added.