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Fresh start in UK for Bhutanese refugees

©IOM/ Kari Collins

This August the resettlement of refugees from Bhutan to the United Kingdom commenced with 37 people flying out of Nepal to their new homeland, under UNHCR's largest resettlement programme.

Fifty-six-year old Narad Muni Pokhrel was amongst the first group to leave for Manchester with his wife and family. "I am happy that I got this opportunity and most importantly that I am going with my entire family," said Narad. "I am sure that my sons will get jobs and pursue further studies if they wish to."

The families had been living in camps in eastern Nepal along the banks of the Kankai river since the early 1990s, when religious and ethnic persecution in neighbouring Bhutan led to a massive exodus of up to 100,000 ethnic Nepalese. In 2007, UNHCR launched a resettlement programme with the support of the government of Nepal and resettlement countries which has found new homes for 34,500 people. Another 5,500 are expected to leave before the end of the year.

The UK offered to accept some 100 individuals this year, joining the 'Core Group' of eight resettlement countries which have offered resettlement to the refugees from Bhutan.

"The UK has a long history of welcoming people from other countries," the British Chargé D'Affaires, Sophia Willitts-King, said at a ceremony marking the departure. "We know that the diversity it brings makes our country stronger. "

"I am confident that all of you will integrate well into your new host community. I wish you all the best for your new life in the UK and, who knows, 20 years from now one of you might well be in my position representing the UK."

For 17-year-old Man Manya Ghimire, unable to conceal her excitement, resettlement means a new lease of life.

"I have heard that I can get a better education in the UK, which is very important for me," she told me. "I am in Class 10 and if I were to remain in the camps, I would not have the opportunity to pursue my studies beyond Class 10."

"We are extremely grateful to the government of UK for this offer and appreciate the speed of the response by the UK government – with this first group of refugees departing only some eight months after the offer was made," said Mr. Stéphane Jaquemet, UNHCR Representative in Nepal.

77,616 refugees from Bhutan still remain in seven camps in eastern Nepal and of these, over 56,400 individuals have declared an interest in resettlement.

The United States has so far accepted 29,496, Canada 1,877, Australia 1,787, New Zealand 461, Norway 335, Denmark 326, and the Netherlands 224. "We hope that other countries would also consider resettling refugees from Bhutan," Mr. Jaquemet added.

The resettlement programme is the result of cooperation between the government of Nepal, the IOM, resettlement countries, and UNHCR.