It has been a difficult road for Bhutanese refugees, from losing their homes to spending seventeen years in refugee camps while their hopes for repatriation went unfulfilled, to finally gaining new hope through resettlement in the US. They have faced many difficulties in the process of resettlement as well.
Bhagirath Khatiwada, Program Director, says that their long journey began in the 1990s when “armed security forces backed by para-military forces, which used their guns and explosives began terrorizing the thousands of innocent people thereby resulting in the mass exodus, seeking for safety and security, landed up becoming refugees until the third country resettlement program started in 2008. As many as over one-hundred thousand people from different walks of life lived in the refugee camps in east Nepal with the hope to return to their homestead with safety and dignity but all in vain. Upon arrival in the United States refugees face language barrier, culture shock, transportation issue, etc.”
Like other South Asian nations, Bhutan has a diverse ethnic population and like other South Asian nations, this diversity has contributed to conflict. The largest ethnic majority are the the Lhotsampas of Nepali origin residing in the south of the country. Since 1989, the Bhutanese government began a policy of discrimination against their culture, banning the language and dress. Protests led to confrontations with state forces which forced as many as 100,000 to flee their homes. To complicate matters, the armed insurgency in Nepal threatened to spill over the borders. After they had spent years in the limbo of the refugee camps, in 2006 the US agreed to resettle 60,000 Bhutanese refugees. But that was not the end of their problems.
It has been harder for Bhutanese refugees to settle in the US as other refugee groups. Following on the hardship and hopelessness of the refugee camps in Nepal, they arrived in the US just as the major recession was setting in, making it difficult for them to find jobs. Language barriers exacerbated the problem and around 2011 press reports noted a disturbing trend, a high rate of suicide.
The Bhutanese Community of New Hampshire (BCNH) was founded in 2009 “to create an enduring legacy of Bhutanese and other New Americans’ heritage for future generations through stewardship of successful integration, and community contributions.”
“BCNH is aspiring to achieve this mission by consistently and effectively providing excellent, satisfactory and accessible community services to all the resettled Bhutanese for successful integration in the state of New Hampshire,” says Khatiwada. Through ESL and citizenship preparation classes, BCNH has helped families find their feet in their new home. Operating out of offices in Concord and Manchester, its programs offer social services, employment services, senior citizens engagement projects, after-school programs, youth engagement projects, health insurance enrollment, mental health support, media and communication, American Sign Language, and legal assistance.
Overcoming tremendous obstacles, the younger generation has achieved success through education and hard work. Like other immigrants, Bhutanese refugees bring a strong work ethic and cultural diversity to their host communities.