UNHCR concerned at Indian forces clash with Bhutanese refugees


United Nations : The United Nations refugee agency is "extremely concerned" over a clash between Bhutanese refugees and Indian border forces on the Mechi bridge dividing India and Nepal.

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Thousands of Bhutanese refugees living in camps in eastern Nepal began a march Monday to exercise their right to return to their homeland, but violence ensued Tuesday when refugees clashed with Indian police resulting in the death of one Bhutanese and the injury to several others, UN news centre said.

"Although we still do not have all of the details of what transpired, there is no justification for such violence and loss of life," said Abraham Abraham, the Nepal representative for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). "This is a terrible tragedy and our condolences go to all the families of those who died and were injured."

Some 107,000 Bhutanese refugees have been living in seven camps in eastern Nepal since the introduction of strict citizenship laws in their home country 16 years ago.

Dissatisfaction has been growing among the refugees, who are unable to work outside the camps in which they live, as they see no solution to their situation since arriving in Nepal in the early 1990s.

"We are indeed extremely concerned by the latest developments and fully understand the increasing frustration of the refugees about the lack of progress on repatriation," Abraham said.

UNHCR has dispatched representatives as well as a medical team to the border town of Kakarbhitta to assess the situation.

Echoing the government's call, UNHCR appealed to the refugees to return to their camps and urged all parties to abstain from resorting to violence.

"For security to prevail and for normalcy to return it is paramount that the civilian character of the camps is maintained," Abraham said.

Last week, High Commissioner António Guterres, during a visit to Nepal and Bhutan, told the refugees that they had the freedom to choose whether to resettle, and urged them to respect others' freedom of choice.

He also assured them that he would make every effort to ensure that as many doors as possible would be opened in terms of a lasting solution to their plight, including voluntary repatriation.