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India: Bhutanese refugees protest at the border
16 January 2006

On 17 December Reuters news agency reported that some 60 people were injured when Indian police used batons to push back hundreds of Nepal-based Bhutanese refugees who were trying to enter India in order to return to Bhutan.

About 100,000 ethnic Nepali Bhutanese have been living in camps in eastern Nepal on the border with India since Bhutan's king stripped them of citizenship and forced them to leave after they campaigned for democracy in the early 1990s. Despite 15 rounds of bilateral negotiations, stalled since 2003, between Bhutan and Nepal on repatriation from which UNHCR has been excluded, not a single refugee has returned home.

On 15 December, around 1,000 Bhutanese refugees gathered on the India-Nepal border for a meeting to mark the Bhutanese National Day, but later allegedly tried to force their way into India. The refugees have to travel through the Indian state of West Bengal to reach Bhutan from eastern Nepal. The skirmishes that ensued left about 60 people injured, some of them requiring hospitalisation.

The organisers of the rally denied they were violent. They described the meeting as peaceful but did admit that some of the refugees may have crossed the border unintentionally.

Following an attempt to return home in early August, UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, called on the refugees to stay in their camps where it can provide them with aid rather than get stranded on the border.

"Given the current situation in Nepal, UNHCR believes that resettlement opportunities for some Bhutanese refugees who have been in the country for the last 15 years, should now be seized", said Ron Redmond, UNHCR spokesperson on 13 January 2006, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

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