The United States is prepared to take in up to 60,000 Bhutanese refugees stranded for nearly two decades in neighbouring Nepal because of strained relations between the two Himalayan kingdoms, a senior US official said on Monday.
Ellen Sauerbrey, the US Assistant Secretary of State for refugee affairs, said Australia and Canada also have indicated they would be willing to resettle some of the 106,000 estimated Bhutanese living in UN-run camps in southeast Nepal.
Most of the refugees fled Bhutan in the late 1980s, when the country's government, dominated by the majority Drukpa ethnic group, accused the minority Lothsampa group of being illegal immigrants.
Talks between Nepal and Bhutan on the refugee issue produced no breakthrough and have been stalled for a couple of years.
"The United States has come forward and said we are willing to resettle a very significant part of this population," Sauerbrey told reporters in Geneva, where she was attending a conference at the UN refugee agency.
"We think over the next three or four years that we can easily absorb 50,000 or 60,000 of the people who are now in these camps."
Sauerbrey also praised Nepal for having recently given permission to UNHCR to do a census of the camps, which will help facilitate resettlement of the refugees elsewhere.
She said Nepal also recently allowed 16 people to receive exit permits, including three young women who were sexually exploited and have since been resettled in the United States.
In July, UN Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees Judy Cheng-Hopkins said she was optimistic the issue of the Bhutanese in Nepal would be resolved soon, saying some donor nations had indicated they would be willing to take in some of the refugees.