Answer given by Mrs Ferrero-Waldner on behalf of the Commission
The Commission is well aware of the plight of the Bhutanese refugees residing in camps in western Nepal. In its contacts with both the Nepalese and Bhutanese authorities, the Commission has always insisted that Bhutan should live up to its promise to allow at least Category C refugees (i.e. refugees who have been verified to be genuine Bhutanese citizens) to return to Bhutan. Unfortunately, however, there are no signs that Bhutan is willing to take back even a token number of Category C refugees and, therefore, third country resettlement is the only viable long-term solution to this protracted crisis.
The Commission is a major donor to the people in the camps in Nepal, having spent more than EUR 26 million on the camps’ maintenance, both through ECHO and the Aid to Uprooted People budget line. Funding to the camps is secured but regarding the Non Food Items, the Commission has devised an exit strategy to take into account third country resettlement, which started two years ago and which has resulted in some 20 000 refugees being resettled in the US.
Every year, Directorate-General ECHO finances an amount of at least EUR 1.5 million for food assistance to the Bhutanese refugees living in the camps. This food aid has been provided through a series of contracts with the UN World Food Programme (WFP). Since 2001, this food assistance totals EUR 16 million, including EUR 1.5 million for 2009. This amount represents approximately two months of WFP's expenses for this purpose.
Over the years, this food assistance has been implemented successfully to the satisfaction of the refugees and other stakeholders. Although the number of refugees has decreased, DG ECHO plans to maintain the level of its assistance in 2010, as this food assistance represents the major part of the refugees’ needs and because the Commission considers that these refugees are the victims of a forgotten crisis.