The UNHCR will exit Bhutanese refugee camps in eastern Nepal at the end of 2019 after nearly three decades of continued humanitarian support to refugees who numbered over 107,000 at one point.
The UN refugee agency has put together a three-year exit plan, beginning early next year. The plan envisions a complete withdrawal from the camps by the end of year three or 2019. The UNHCR has notified the government, including the prime minister, about its exit plan.
“UNHCR aims to conclude the last chapter of the Bhutanese refugee situation, working closely with refugees, the host community and the Governments of Nepal and Bhutan,” said UNHCR Representative Kevin J Allen. “If we are successful, this will represent a crowning achievement of international collaboration and solidarity.”
As the third-country resettlement programme concludes at the end of this year, UNHCR projects that almost 115,000 refugees will be resettled, with only 10,000 behind in the camps. The remaining population either wishes to return to Bhutan or be locally integrated.
The three-year exit plan would see the UNHCR transitioning from humanitarian operation to development programme—with government of Nepal required to play a key role, including making budgetary provisions to support the transition.
In the event no repatriation takes place by 2019, the UNHCR and the international community are working under the assumption that Nepal government will be forthcoming in finding a local solution. They are also assuming that the government will take responsibilities in next three years for health and education of refugees, while giving them work permits.
“We will hold consultations with all stakeholders to find a solution to this situation,” said Chandra Prakash Khanal ‘Baldev’, chief Political Advisor to Nepalese Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal