January 7, 2009 / 1:46 PM / 10 years ago

Over 60,000 Bhutanese refugees want to resettle - U.N.

KATHMANDU, Jan 7 (Reuters) - More than half the Bhutanese refugees living in camps in Nepal for over 18 years want to resettle in Western countries under a scheme started last year, the United Nations refugee agency said on Wednesday.

More than 103,000 people of ethnic Nepali origin in southern Bhutan fled or were forced to leave in the 1990s after demanding greater rights and representation.

Bhutan says most of the refugees were illegal immigrants and left voluntarily.

Several Western countries, including the United States began resettling them last year after many rounds of ministerial meetings between the two South Asian nations failed to repatriate the refugees.

The U.N. said more than 8,000 refugees had already been resettled in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, the Netherlands and Denmark so far.

Another 18,000 were expected to find new homes this year, it said.

"We are pleased to see so many refugees starting their lives afresh after living in difficult conditions in the camps... and to learn that those resettled are adapting well in their new country," Daisy Dell, UNHCR representative in Nepal, said in a statement.

Since the programme started last year more than 60,000 refugees have expressed their interest to find new homes in the West, a U.N. statement said.

The U.N. also advocates voluntary repatriation to Bhutan for those refugees who wish to do so.

The Western offer for resettlement has left the refugees split with some wanting to go back to Bhutan while others want to look for better education and job opportunities in the West. (Reporting by Gopal Sharma; Editing by Bappa Majumdar)

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