Nepal and Bhutan have yet to finalise the results of the joint verification of the repatriation of more than 12,000 Bhutanese refugees. The two Himalayan kingdoms are still ironing out details for negotiations conducted in one of the seven refugee camps in eastern Nepal almost two years ago.
The joint verification team just concluded their work on the results but the governments of the two nations have yet to make up their minds. As a result, the 14th round of Nepal-Bhutan talks on refugee issue earlier scheduled for 11 May has been postponed by a week.
Foreign Ministry officials said more homework needed to be done. The verification that could lead to repatriation is still unclear on exactly how to treat the verified refugees who will be grouped into four categories.
During the first round of ministerial level meet in 1993, the two had agreed to categorise the refugees as bonafide Bhutanese, Bhutanese who have emigrated voluntarily, Bhutanese who have committed crimes and non-Bhutanese. Since then Thimpu had insisted it would take back only bonafide Bhutanese. Nepal says all but those in the non-Bhutanese category must be allowed re-entry.
If categorised, refugees believe most of them will fall into the Bhutanese who have emigrated category because, they claim, they were forced to fill in voluntary migration forms at gunpoint just when they were evicted in an ethnic cleansing drive from their homelands in southern Bhutan. However, Bhutanese officials say Nepali-speaking refugees left of their own accord as economic migrants.
During the 12th round of talks in Kathmandu last year, both the foreign ministers of Nepal and Bhutan announced they had overcome differences on the categorisation of refugees, but did not elaborate.
More than 100,000 Bhutanese refugees are languishing in seven UNHCR-supported camps in Jhapa and Morang for over a decade.