Kathmandu_(dpa) _ The United States announced Friday that beginning this year, it would start resettling tens of thousands of Bhutanese refugees who have been living for more than 15 years in United Nations camps in eastern Nepal.
The announcement came amid growing signs that Bhutan would not agree to the repatriation of the refugees, who are mainly of Nepali origin, back to their own country.
According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 104,000 Bhutanese refugees of Nepalese origin live in seven camps in eastern Nepal.
Most of the refugees arrived in Nepal in the early 1990s, alleging prosecution by the Bhutanese authorities over their religious and cultural beliefs.
Janice Belz, deputy director for admissions for the US State Department, said in Kathmandu, "We can resettle over 60,000 Bhutanese refugees if there is interest among the refugees."
Belz along with Lawrence Bartlett, the department's deputy director for Asia and the Near East, are currently in the Nepalese capital and have held discussion with the refugees in the camps.
Belz said her initial impression was that the refugees were interested in the resettlement programme.
The programme was expected to begin as early as July with the opening of a processing centre in Kathmandu.
More than 60,000 Bhutanese refugees are to be processed in the first year alone with another 15,000 expected in the second year.
Belz also added that there was no ceiling on the number of refugees the United States would take and the final number would largely depend on the refugees' interest.
Nepal and Bhutan have held several rounds of high-level meetings, but no progress was made on repatriation of the refugees.
Nepal does not share a common border with Bhutan, and the refugees arrived overland through India.
Refugee experts said they believe India's role was critical in resolving the crisis because of its leverage with the Bhutan government. However, India has maintained the issue is purely bilateral and that it should be resolved by Nepal and Bhutan.
Nepal also provides refuge to 20,000 Tibetan refugees fleeing persecution by the Chinese government. dpa kr ls
- Deutsche Presse Agentur
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