Bhutanese refugees languishing in camps in Nepal rejected on Thursday a proposal by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to resettle them in other countries to resolve their plight.
The UNHCR representative in Nepal, Abraham Abraham, this month proposed relocating more than 100,000 refugees from eastern Nepal to third countries if their repatriation did not come through.
"We are not happy with it because we are trying hard for our repatriation," Thinley Penjore, leader of the Bhutanese Movement Steering Committee, said.
"With the third country resettlement programme, we fear losing our national identity and right to return to Bhutan."
In the early 1990s, the king of Bhutan stripped hundreds of ethnic Nepalis of their citizenship and threw them out of the Himalayan country after they complained of racial discrimination and campaigned for democracy.
Tens of thousands joined them in exile and now more than 100,000 live in refugee camps, mostly temporary huts, managed by the UNHCR and other aid agencies.
Bilateral talks between Nepal and Bhutan on their repatriation have been stalled since December 2003.
Now that the king of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, has slowly begun pushing his isolated kingdom towards democracy, the refugees want to return and vote in elections scheduled for 2008.
"We may have lived in the camps for many years, but still we have not forgotten our homeland where we have left behind our close relatives, including our aged parents and properties," Penjore said.