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Last Updated: Sunday, 9 March 2008, 12:41 GMT
Bhutanese refugees start new life
Charles Haviland
BBC News, Kathmandu

Bhutanese refugees at the Goldhap camp in Nepal, 2007
Thousands of Bhutanese refugees live in camps in Nepal
After more than 15 years of waiting, the first Bhutanese refugees in Nepal have started to leave for a new life in other countries.

More than 100,000 Nepali-speaking Bhutanese people have been in refugee camps in Nepal since the early 1990s.

The mainly Hindu people were forced out of Bhutan, a Himalayan kingdom which has a code of national conformity.

Bhutan, which maintains that most left voluntarily, has never allowed any to return to the country.

A line of men, women and children is pictured in Sunday's newspapers waiting to board a plane from eastern Nepal to Kathmandu.

Emotional farewell

These 17 families will then fly on to their new homes, reportedly in the United States and New Zealand.

Map showing Nepal and Bhutan

The children were refugees from the moment they were born. Reporters said many people broke down as they bade farewell to their relatives.

Together with a handful, who left earlier in the week, they are the first of the tens of thousands of Bhutanese to leave Nepal since arriving here around 1990. Those who left Bhutan made up about one-sixth of the country's population.


Despite many rounds of talks none have gone back and India does not allow the refugees onto its territory which lies between Bhutan and Nepal.

Some months ago the US and some other countries agreed to accept tens of thousands of the refugees.

Many, desperate to escape the camps, applied to go. But their departure is increasing tension in the camps, with some refugees and self-appointed refugee leaders saying that the only acceptable path is complete repatriation to Bhutan.

Some have used and threatened violence against those wishing to go to the West.

One would-be emigrant told the BBC the hardliners had destroyed her hut and several others.

Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency says there is still an urgent need for relief supplies, after one of the seven refugee camps was virtually destroyed by fire a week ago.

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