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Return of stranded Bhutanese being arranged

Quake: There are around 70 Bhutanese still stranded in Nepal as a result of the April 25 earthquake, according to the Bhutan4Nepal control room chair, cabinet secretary Kinzang Wangdi.

A list of 55 people was posted on the Bhutan4Nepal Facebook page, some with their mobile numbers in Nepal, so that contact with relatives or friends could be established. But it was also pointed out by the Bhutan4Nepal media focal person, Tshering Wangmo, that the number could change.

The stranded Bhutanese will be evacuated by road via the Nepalese border town of Kakarvitta on May 3.  They will be transported to Kakarvitta in buses.

“Safety is our priority,” Tshering Wangmo said.

They are being evacuated by road as they did not travel with passports and do not have visas, it was pointed out by the cabinet secretary on BBS TV, yesterday.

On if an exception could be made so that they can be brought back by air, Kinzang Wangdi said that the government will not take advantage of the situation, and will respect Nepal’s immigration laws.

Two foreign affairs ministry officials will leave for Nepal today, and accompany the stranded Bhutanese back to Bhutan.

Two home ministry officials will hire two buses in Phuentsholing and meet the evacuees in Kakarvitta.

Kinzang Wangdi also pointed out that His Majesty the King has said that all stranded Bhutanese in Nepal must be brought back to Bhutan. “So we’re making all efforts to locate them and bring them back,” Kinzang Wangdi said.

In response to whether Bhutanese wanting to assist in relief efforts in Nepal can travel there themselves to do so, Kinzang Wangdi said it would not be encouraged.  He pointed out that living conditions in Nepal are currently not favourable and that, if they were to go, they could end up a burden on the government,   especially if a need arose for them to be evacuated.

He added that many Bhutanese have volunteered to go to help, but there are specific professional needed in Nepal currently.

It was also pointed out that help could instead be rendered by donating funds or water to the Bhutan4Nepal effort.  An account number has been posted on the Bhutan4Nepal Facebook page.  Kinzang Wangdi said that, to ensure transparency, the names and donations will be published on the page.

Kinzang Wangdi also said that, if the number of casualties in Nepal continues to rise, then Bhutan’s relief effort may be expanded and additional people may be required.

On how long the relief effort would continue, Kinzang Wangdi said there was no time frame. He added that, as it was His Majesty the King’s command, the relief team would be in Nepal for as long the Nepalese people required support.  He also pointed out that the Bhutan4Nepal effort would continue as long as the Bhutanese people supported it.

Around 500 cases of bottled water, donated by both agencies and individuals, had been collected as of yesterday.  A temporary warehouse has been established on the ground floor of the Office of the Attorney General in lower Changangkha.

The Bhutan4Nepal effort is currently only accepting financial and water donations.  Kinzang Wangdi said this is to prevent unwanted items from being sent to Nepal.

A private initiative to raise funds by Dawa Penjor, the executive director for the Bhutan Media Foundation, had also raised Nu 300,000 as of yesterday.

The number of earthquake victims treated by Bhutan’s 63-member medical team has increased to 238 as of 12:30pm yesterday, based on information posted on the DeSuung Facebook page.  The team was dispatched to Nepal upon Royal Command by His Majesty the King.

The team also performed three  major and six minor surgeries yesterday.

Bad weather prevented helicopters from bringing in victims to the Bhutan camp during the morning.  However, the weather improved later in the day and helicopters were able to operate to the camp, it was also posted on the DeSuung page.

“The locals have been very kind to offer water and food,” it was posted. “The team has thanked them for their kindness but haven’t accepted as we are self sufficient, and water and food are needed elsewhere urgently.”

The team is currently operating in Trishuli, Nuwakot district, located 44km from the earthquake’s epicentre.  The team was deployed to Trishuli, around 80km from Kathmandu, as it is one of the few international relief teams that can self-sustain with food and medical supplies enough to last it two weeks. All members of the team also speak Nepali.

No flights were operated to Kathmandu yesterday as there were no passengers.  Both airlines have experienced mass cancellations on the sector.

Bhutan has donated Nu 63M (million) or USD 1M to Nepal for the rehabilitation effort.  The donation was personally handed over by Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay to Nepalese Prime Minister Sushil Koirala in Kathmandu on April 27, two days after the 7.8 earthquake struck Nepal.

Lyonchoen Tshering Tobgay had travelled to Nepal on the same relief flight that carried the medical team to Nepal that day.

At least 5,500 people have been killed by the earthquake and 11,000 injured.  According to the UN, more than eight million people have been affected and 70,000 houses destroyed.

By Gyalsten K Dorji

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