Number of refugees resettled from Nepal passes 25,000 mark

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KATHMANDU, Nepal, December 9 (UNHCR) - The number of refugees from Bhutan resettled in the United States and other receiving countries from camps in eastern Nepal has reached the 25,000 mark.

The milestone was reached on Wednesday, with 48-year-old Jagu Maya Khatiwada named as the 25,000th refugee to be resettled. She boarded a flight to the United States with her husband and two sons and will eventually settle in North Carolina.

The United States, with 22,060, has accepted the majority of the refugees originating from Bhutan since the resettlement programme was launched by UNHCR in November 2007 with the cooperation of the government of Nepal and the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

The other countries to accept refugees are Australia (1,006), Canada (892), Norway (316), Denmark (305), New Zealand (299) and the Netherlands (122).

"We have been receiving regular feedback from those resettled. They have written to us about their lives; they are learning new languages, their children are in school and they are happy with their new homes. Of course, they miss family and friends; the start of a new life in a new country is never easy," said Diane Goodman, UNHCR's acting representative in Nepal.

Many of the tens of thousands of refugees in seven camps in eastern Nepal have been living in exile for almost 20 years. They arrived in Nepal after fleeing ethnic tensions in Bhutan in the early 1990s.

Recognizing the desperate situation of the refugees, the United States said two years ago that it would consider at least 60,000 refugees for resettlement and Canada indicated it would accept up to 5,000.

But while resettlement offers a way out for refugees who see no future in the camps, UNHCR continues to advocate for voluntary repatriation for those who are willing to wait in the camps. The refugee agency holds regular information sessions and focus group discussions in the camps as well as providing individual counselling.

Special information sessions are organized for the marginalized and vulnerable. Refugees are also being offered English-language classes, though these are not restricted to those who wish to resettle in a third country.

Some 86,739 refugees from Bhutan remain in the eastern Nepal camps. More than 550 of them are expected to be flown to resettlement countries between now and the end of the year.