Malinowski calls for UNHCR involvement in Nepal
KATHMANDU: US ambassador to Nepal Michael E Malinowski has condemned the verification process of Bhutanese refugees living in Nepal and called for the UNHCR to become involved in the process, a report said Thursday.
“I strongly believe that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is uniquely qualified to assist in the verification and repatriation of the refugees,” Malinowski told the English-language daily, The Kathmandu Post.
“The UNHCR is widely recognised by the international community as having the expertise needed to ensure that the repatriation and reintegration to Bhutan is conducted in just and humane manner,” Malinowski said.
The US envoy expressed concern at a report released by the Nepal-Bhutan Joint Verification Team (JVT) June 18 which concluded that less than 2.5 percent of refugees at one of seven UNHCR camps in southeast Nepal were “genuine Bhutanese”. Malinowski singled out instances in which members of the same family were categorised by the JVT into different groups, meaning some members would be allowed back into Bhutan and others not.
According to the newspaper report, Malinowski also condemned the fact that appeals are submitted to the same body that made the original determination.
More than 100,000 refugees of ethnic Nepalese origin from southern Bhutan have been living in the seven camps for the past 13 years after fleeing when the Buddhist state instituted cultural reforms that favoured the use of Bhutan’s national language and dress.
Bhutan, which denies any anti-Hindu agenda, has pledged to take back those who were forced out, but the controversy lies in classification. The committee report found that of 12,183 people in the Khudunabari camp, 2.34 percent were “forcibly evicted”.
It said 69.1 percent were Bhutanese who “emigrated”, 25.87 percent were “non-Bhutanese” and 2.69 percent were Bhutanese who had committed crimes. The US envoy urged both Nepal and Bhutan to re-examine the report’s conclusions, adding that the US government is concerned about the absence of the guarantees provided to the Bhutanese refugees returning to their homeland.
Washington, he said, was eager to assist, through the UNHCR, the refugees’ return and reintegration in Bhutan. “The current conditions of return, we believe, are unlikely to foster sustainable reintegration of the refugees back into Bhutanese society. I urge Nepal and Bhutan to work with the UNHCR on a durable solution,” the ambassador said. —AFP