Cultural Presentation by Chhabi Koirala


Bhutan is a land locked and isolated country situated between India and China. It has an area of 47,000 sq km (18,147 sq mile). It is a land of immigrants. The population is about 650,000. There are three major ethnic groups, Ngalong, Sarchops and Nepali speaking Southern Bhutanese  ( Lhotshampa ). Mostly Ngalongs and Sarchops are Buddhist and Southern Bhutanese are mostly Hindus. There was peace and harmony among the people through 1980 in the small Himalayan kingdom. However, in  1981 the fourth king of Bhutan established several discriminatory policies (ethnic cleansing policies) in southern Bhutan. Some of these were; The Green Belt Policy, The 1985 citizenship act, The One Nation One People policy, forced to practice Ngalong traditions (Driglam Namza), The banning of Nepali Language and courses in schools and  in offices and public places, The practice of Buddhist and Hindu mixed religion and The Census Policy. It was mandatory for  Southern Bhutanese  to wear National Dress any time and any where they went. Disobeying these rules would be dealt with strict disciplinary action by the Govt. That was too much for the Southern Bhutanese to  digest. Therefore they appealed to the king about the state of affairs and their effects on Southern Bhutan. The king arrested many prominent citizens and commanded his armies and police to raid Southern Bhutan. Many innocent people were killed, women raped, houses were burnt and many were arbitrarily arrested and tortured. People started to flee  the country to escape the brutal torture and arbitrary arrests.

Where are they coming from?

Situated between the emerging super powers of India and China, the isolated Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan has generated one of the highest numbers of refugees in the world in proportion to its population. (The population of Bhutan is about 650,000)

Since 1991 over one sixth of Bhutan’s peoples sought asylum in Nepal, India and other countries around the world.

There have been 15 rounds of bilateral talk between Nepal and Bhutan to solve the refugee problem but the situation has not improved. Govt. of Nepal and Bhutanese refugees requested that India get involved in the issue but India stayed aside citing the problem (bilateral) is between Nepal and Bhutan. Bhutanese refugees love their mother land more than their lives. Time and again under different slogans refugees tried to go to Bhutan but India did not allow them to cross the border by deploying Indian Border Security Forces in the process many lost their lives and many were seriously injured. Refugees had never thought of third country settlement, their dream was to repatriate back to their country in dignity. On the other hand UNHCR was not as willing to continue feeding the Bhutanese refugees as they had in the  past, as this was not resulting in a permanent solution. UNHCR requested many developed western countries to share the burden of protracted Bhutanese refugees by resettling them in their countries. Core countries like the USA, Canada, Australia, Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands came forward to share the burden of Bhutanese refugees. Among all the USA had  agreed to resettle more than 60,000 refugees. In Portland about 300 Bhutanese have been resettled and more 700 are expected to be resettled with in 2012.

What conditions they lived in?

Over 105,000 Bhutanese refugees have spent more than 18 years living in the seven refugee camps established in Nepal by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

The vast majority of Bhutanese refugees are people of Nepali origins, one of the Bhutan’s three main ethnic groups.

In Bhutan the majority of people owned their own homes and land for cultivation. Most of them used to work on their own farm for agricultural products like rice, corn, oilseed, wheat, vegetables and fruit. They had oranges and cardamom orchards which was one of the major income sources. They also raised their own animals for milk and meat and to work on  their farms. Only a few of the Bhutanese work in other types of jobs and businesses.

When they were evicted they took asylum in Nepal and were in the camp almost 19 years. In the camp the majority of these people were idle without any source of income. They were confined within their UNHCR managed camp. Refugees were not permitted to work outside of the camp, therefore these people had no other option other than their daily activities of staying in the camp, and playing cards, carom and other games.

Their socio-economic and educational background ?

Their socio economic condition is pathetic. Most of the adults over the age of 30 have never seen a school and  cannot read or write in their own native language. There were very few schools in Bhutan and were very far away from home. Transportation was a major problem.  Younger generations are literate. There was a good school system in the camp managed by CARITAS Nepal.

Major health and mental health issues..

With the changing geopolitical situation mental health problems have occurred. Depression, anxiety and stress disorders are the major mental health problems.

Other health issues are asthma, vitamin A deficiency, anemia, tuberculosis, night blindness, dysentery etc. Language and cultural barriers make the shock of navigating the US health care system very difficult.

Major challenges for successful resettlement

These people are from entirely different language, cultural, political, economic and social contexts. They have different settlement needs that include special requirements arising from years of trauma or torture followed by years in the camps.

Refugees US employment  service expectations

Their expectations upon arrival in the US were quite high and different as they had become   dependent on UNHCR  for nearly two decades and their back ground was  different from US standard. They thought USA a dream land to earn lots of money by simple means.  They expected to get job and other services very easily when they arrive here. They were not aware of the economic condition, slow down of the company and industries and what the job search process involved in the United States.

We should find out their special requirements, health problem, communication skill and give them skill development training accordingly so that they can be self-sufficient.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment