Nearly 100,000 Bhutanese refugees lived in Nepal at the end of 1997. Of these, 93,000 lived in camps, while 5,000 or more lived outside of the camps. Nepal also hosted a long-standing population of 18,000 refugees from China (Tibet). UNHCR reported that some 2,200 Tibetan refugees entered Nepal during the year, virtually all of whom continued on to India. Refugees from Bhutan Ethnic Nepalese Hindu refugees from the southern plains of Bhutan began entering Nepal in late 1991. Their numbers peaked during mid-1992. By late 1992, the refugee population totaled about 75,000. Refugee flight from Bhutan decreased after that, but births in the camps have increased the population. Nepal screens new arrivals to determine their refugee status. In 1997, Nepalese and UNHCR officials interviewed 67 Bhutanese asylum seekers in Nepal, granting only 1 refugee status. At the end of 1997, 93,000 Bhutanese refugees were living in five camps in the Jhapa and Morang Districts of eastern Nepal, the government said. Most of the 5,000 to 6,000 other Bhutanese refugees in Nepal never entered the camps. Others initially settled in the camps, but left to live with relatives or friends, or to find work. Although ethnic Nepalese comprised a large segment of the Bhutanese population, the dominant Drupka group, Buddhists in mountainous northern Nepal, excluded them from the political and economic mainstream. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Bhutanese government committed widespread human rights abuses against the ethnic Nepalese to make them leave the country. Discrimination against ethnic Nepalese continued in 1997. In July, Bhutan adopted a resolution forcing all relatives of Bhutanese refugees in Nepal to "retire" from government posts. When the refugees first arrived in Nepal, the Nepalese authorities placed them in overcrowded camps. In 1994, the government allotted more land for better camps. The camps are now well organized, with schools run by the refugees. UNHCR and international NGOs help the refugees to become economically self-sufficient and to assume responsibility for administering their camps. In 1996, Bhutanese refugees demanded they be allowed to repatriate. Their Appeal Movement Coordination Council held protests and marches in which hundreds of refugees attempted to return to Bhutan through India. Nepal wants all of the Bhutanese to repatriate, but Bhutan refuses to acknowledge many of the refugees as citizens, saying they left the country willingly and have no right to return. Bhutan's restrictions mean that only about 15,000 of the refugees in Nepal would be eligible to repatriate. In April 1996, the seventh set of talks between Nepal and Bhutan achieved no new positive results regarding repatriation. In July, Nepal's foreign affairs secretary visited Bhutan to discuss the refugee issue. After the talks, one senior Nepalese official reportedly said, "Repatriation could begin soon after the two governments endorse a compromise formula, which is being drawn up at the moment." No such compromise materialized, however. Refugees from Tibet Most of the 18,000 Tibetan refugees in Nepal are the children and grandchildren of Tibetan refugees who fled to Nepal following China's 1959 occupation of Tibet. These refugees have integrated well in Nepal's economy. In the 1990s, hundreds of Tibetan refugees, including many Buddhist monks and nuns escaping religious persecution, fled to Nepal. Almost all continued on to India, where more than 110,000 other Tibetan refugees, including the Dalai Lama, live. In 1997, UNHCR reported that some 2,200 Tibetans transited through Nepal to India. During the dangerous journey from Tibet to Nepal over the Himalaya Mountains, some refugees have frozen to death. Many Tibetans flee during the perilous winter months, when there are fewer border patrols. Some Nepalese security guards demand bribes of refugees caught at the border, threatening to hand them over to Chinese authorities. In 1997, Nepalese border guards returned as many as 50 Tibetans to China. In response to a December 1997 USCR letter, the Nepalese embassy in Washington, D.C. denied reports of such returns.

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