Bhutan refugees set to resettle in US from January

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KATHMANDU, Nov 3 (Reuters) The first planeload of Bhutanese refugees living in Nepal are expected to leave the Himalayan nation in January for resettlement in the United States, a top US government official said today.

US officials will begin processing some of the 106,000 Bhutanese living in UN-managed camps in east Nepal next week and the first batch of people could arrive in the United States less than three months from now, said Ellen R. Sauerbrey, Assistant Secretary in the US bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.

Thousands of refugees of ethnic Nepali origin who were expelled or fled the Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan since 1991 have been living in poor and crowded camps in eastern Nepal.

Nepal and Bhutan have failed to resolve the issue despite several rounds of ministerial talks, with Bhutan insisting most of the exiles were illegal immigrants.

The deadlock has strained ties between the two South Asian nations, both among the world's poorest.

''They have been waiting for something to work between the government of Nepal and the government of Bhutan and it is not happening,'' Sauerbrey told reporters at the end of her visit to Nepal during which she also met with the refugees.

''You have children that have been born and raised and never seen anything but the refugee camps. They deserve a better future,'' she said.

Last year, Washington offered to resettle 60,000 Bhutanese refugees from camps in Nepal, an offer that has divided the asylum seekers.

Sauerbrey said the resettlement was purely a ''humanitarian'' offer which would be based on the desire of the person concerned.

REUTERS SKB RN1901

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