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Nepal: brighter future awaits 75,000 resettled refugees
January 25, 2013

Nepal: brighter future awaits 75,000 resettled refugees
Adult English education prepares families to move from the Bhutanese camps in southeastern Nepal to resettlement countries. One student adorns guests with a flower garland and traditional bindi to welcome them to the adult English language course closing ceremony. (Molly Mullen/Jesuit Refugee Service)
According to Fr. PS Amal, there are still currently 39,000 people in the camps, of whom more than 80 percent have applied for resettlement. By 2015, those who have applied will have been resettled, and those who choose to stay in Nepal will have to continue living in the camps.

(New Delhi) January 25, 2013 – As the camp population decreases and the international resettlement effort continues, Jesuit Refugee Service celebrates the successful resettlement of 75,000 refugees from Nepal, the majority of them beginning new lives in the United States. Six-year-old Yagandra Kami recently became the 75,000th Bhutanese refugee to leave Nepal for a new life with her family.

After experiencing years of cultural conflict and government oppression in Bhutan, the Nepali-speaking families began fleeing to Nepal in the early 1990s, and for many, their dream of a new life is only now beginning to be realized.

"This is the dream of JRS and Caritas coming true. We're really happy to see them off and see the camps closed," said Fr. PS Amal S.J., JRS Nepal Director.

More than 63,000 refugees have been resettled to the United States, with others going to Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Europe.

"Our first night in Nepal, I burst into tears. Imagine, there was no bed, no mattress, no quilt, no pillow and above all we didn't feel safe. We slept on wooden planks. Imagine having to wait until others finished cooking and eating before you could borrow their utensils. We felt like beggars," said Prahlad Dahal, former Caritas employee, who was resettled with his family to Australia.

Before he left he was nervous about leaving his social network, his career and his standing in the community. While he is happy for his family to be resettled, life in a new country, so different from Nepal and Bhutan, comes with its challenges.

"I feel happy that we're able to make a living and not depend on charity. However, we do miss the social network and feel like we are compromising our cultural festivals and rituals," he said. 

According to Fr. PS Amal, there are still currently 39,000 people in the camps, of whom more than 80 percent have applied for resettlement. By 2015, those who have applied will have been resettled, and those who choose to stay in Nepal will have to continue living in the camps.

Kezang, principal of Marigold Academy in Belangi Three camp, said family responsibility keeps her from applying for resettlement, even if that means remaining in Nepal without a clear framework of rights and protection for refugees like her.

"If I stay here I'd really need to have citizenship, but I know I won't get it. Yet I have my father here; he's very old and doesn't want to leave. I have to respect his feelings. So we'll see," she said.

Fr. PS Amal said while there is no plan yet for refugees who choose to stay in Nepal, JRS and other partner agencies are working together to see what can be done. For instance, some advocacy groups are working with the Department of Education in Nepal to ensure refugees access to local schools and universities.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has offered to fund a new community-based development program, offering a combination of vocational training, grants and small loans, to assist refugees in becoming self-sufficient; but it is still awaiting government approval. Once UNHCR suspends operations in Nepal, JRS will remain to assess how the needs of the remaining refugees can be met.

"If necessary, we'll continue assisting the remaining refugees to cope with the new situation," added Fr PS Amal.

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