Tuesday, January 26, 2010

News Alert 27-01-2010

Buzzes from Diaspora: Press Release; as it is reseased from Brussels
By Ramesh
In her response she assured the delegates about her full support towards Bhutanese advocacy activities in Europe and expressed her happiness for being able to interact with Bhutanese refugee delegates and getting first hand information ...
Buzzes from Diaspora - http://www.rameshh.com/
Advocacy in Europe states in high hope
By editor
"We are not satisfied with Bhutan government for its unsatisfactory cooperation with regards to the repatriation of Bhutanese refugees willing to go back to Bhutan" said Remond in response to the issues of repatriation raised by the ...
APFA NEWS - http://www.apfanews.com/
Asst. Secretary of State announces more funding for refugee ...
By acorcoran
Early in my tenure, I visited Chicago, Fort Wayne, IN and Minneapolis/St. Paul, to learn more about our efforts to meet the needs of newly arriving refugeesBhutanese, Burmese, Burundians, Hmong, Iraqis and so many others. ...
Refugee Resettlement Watch - http://refugeeresettlementwatch.wordpress.com/

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

8 Things I’ve Learned Working With Refugees

Source: Weight Upon the Lord

A couple weeks back, I posted an article the day after a family of Bhutanese refugees came to stay with us while their apartment was being prepared. Those items I posted were my initial reactions, and while they still hold true, I’ve definitely learned a lot more than that. Here are the top 8 things I’ve learned (I tried to come up with 10, but I’m still learning - I’ll share the other two in a later post):

  1. Cultural intelligence does not equal true intelligence - By default, I think I automatically assume that someone should have a basic understanding of indoor plumbing, or that crayons are used on paper, not walls, or that in this country, we dry clothing in clothes dryers and not on the bushes in front of the house. However, all of those ‘common sense’ things are only common sense to someone who’s lived in a developed country their entire life. Common sense is often confused with cultural intelligence - what the culture requires in order to survive and get along. Common sense really should be equated with adaptability, for it’s in one’s ability to adapt and learn from new experiences that really shows one’s true intelligence.

  2. No matter the culture, with age comes wisdom - Sukmaya, the ‘grandma’ of the family, exudes wisdom. Even though we can’t understand a word she says (with the exception of the frequent ‘Halleluljahs’ that she utters when patting her grandkids’ heads or touching the flowers in our yard), you can just tell that she has seen a LOT in her 76 years, and most of it probably hasn’t been pleasant. As a result, when she speaks, her daughter-in-law- Bishnu listens; her granddaughters listen; and we listen, even though we don’t understand. I can’t help but think that when I read Proverbs 31 in the future, her face will be one that I picture when I think of a Godly woman.

  3. Winning the lottery isn’t easy - Granted, this Bhutanese family didn’t really win the lottery; however, to go from living in a tent city to living in a 2-bedroom apartment with baseboard heat; to go from being uncertain when you’re going to eat next, to being overwhelmed by the choices at an American grocery store; to go from having 2-3 changes of threadbare clothing to a closet full of second-hand dresses - all of those are like going from a $50K salary to a $50 million grand prize. The UN basically assigned this family to the US, and in doing so took them from the poorest of the poorest in their country to the upper class nearly overnight. While it’s a change that definitely can improve their situation, it’s still a HUGE change, and it’s one that will take a great deal of time to adjust to.

  4. We hold onto our ’stuff’ way too tightly - My wife likes to keep a clean house; I like to have plumbing that works; my older daughter likes her personal space and the retreat that is her bedroom; my younger daughter likes her barettes and hairclips in the drawer in her bathroom, waiting for her at a moment’s notice. During this past week, none of us had those things - we voluntarily gave them up when we welcomed six additional people into our home. If I learned anything this week, I learned that liking our comforts isn’t the same thing as requiring our comforts. God has blessed us with many ‘things’ here in our comfortable home in suburban Chicago; however, they are on loan to us. None of the things we treasure are permanent or give eternal comfort. If I have learned to loosen my grip on these things just a little bit this past week, then God has a greater chance to be glorified in my life moving forward.

  5. The body of Christ, the church, can do amazing things - a team of people from our church has been instrumental in getting these new family settled. Opening our home to them was one small part - there is one couple, Ken and Kathy, who worked tirelessly to make sure their new apartment was furnished with everything they needed to get started; Linda spent many hours driving them around to doctor’s appointments, to church, from the airport; Justin and Carter played with the kids and made sure that Mom didn’t blow anything up by blowing out the gas burner instead of turning it off the proper way; Sam and Debbie brought foods they knew that the family would appreciate (since they ate more rice and masala in the refugee camp than they ate french fries and milkshakes); and Chris and Norm are helping and will be helping with finances, English lessons, and the many other needs this family with have into the future.
  6. No one knows how others may come to Christ because of this family - we’re already seeing God work in some of our neighbors, who have been curious about why this family was staying with us, and why we would even consider opening our home to them in the first place. It’s made for some very interesting conversations about the difference between works and grace.

  7. Our role is to be Isaiah 25:4 - You have been a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in his distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat. For the breath of the ruthless is like a storm driving against a wall. The Nepalese government (the refugee camp was in Nepal) was quickly becoming the ‘breath of the ruthless;’ we are called by Christ to be a refuge to the poor and a shelter from the storm. Yes, it’s not always easy to do so, but Christ never said living for Him would be easy!

  8. One week doesn’t cut it - we hosted the family in our home for a week; however, our responsibility to serve doesn’t end there. In the case with this family, we’ll be supporting them for a long time. It may mean giving up some of our time, some of our money, some of our treasures and talents. But as stated in #7, it’s what God calls us to do, and we know that that may mean it won’t be without sacrifice.
I pray that God would continue to show us how to serve, not only this family but others that may come our way. And I pray that by doing so, He would be glorified, not only in our lives, but in the lives of this family from a land on the other side of the world.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Repatriation campaign for Bhutanese refugees launched in Nepal

KATHMANDU, May 8 (Xinhua) -- Non-political organizations based in Jhapa district in eastern Nepal have initiated campaigns to pave the way for the repatriation of the Bhutanese refugees back home.

According to Friday's nepalnews.com, as a part of the campaign, these organizations namely Human Rights Organization of Bhutan, Bhutanese Refugees Repatriation Council and Bhutan Gorkha National Liberation Front have started filling out forms for repatriation of the refugees at all the seven Bhutanese refugee camps in different parts of Jhapa and Morang districts.

The form, scripted in both English and Nepali, features details of the refugees, such as address in Bhutan, citizenship, land and property ownership and family information.

Once filled out, these forms would be sent to the concerned bodies, the organizations said. The organizers believe the campaign will help draw international attention to the Bhutanese refugees' situation and build up pressure on the Bhutanese government for their repatriation.

The repatriation campaign will continue for two months. According to the International Organization on Migration, more than 15,000 Bhutanese refugees so far have been resettled in seven different countries including the United States, Australia and Netherlands, among others.

Some 106,000 Bhutanese refugees have been living in seven camps in eastern Nepal for the last 18 years.

Lhotsampa leave Nepal refugee camps

Source: Al Jazeera

Dhan Bahadur Giri and his extended family are here to say good-bye.
Like hundreds of others they are standing under the drizzling grey rain at Beldangi II refugee camp in Eastern Nepal. His cousin's bag is among the dozens being hefted up into the roof-rack of a bus parked on the dirt road.

"Nineteen years here is enough," says Giri. "It's time for them to go and do something in life."

Giri, his family, and some 100,000 other Bhutanese have lived in bamboo huts on the Terai plains of eastern Nepal since the early 1990s, when they say they were 'ethnically cleansed' from Bhutan.

Another of the seven refugee camps in the region is Timai, where Hari Maya Gurung is crouching on a dirt floor, arranging the few pots and pans that distinguish this room as her kitchen.

Her family used to own 15 acres of land in the village of Leopani in southern Bhutan, where they tended three orange orchards and raised cows and oxen. Today all that she possesses can be found within this small hut.

Gurung's great-great-grandfather was among thousands of Nepalese to emigrate to Bhutan a century ago, building farms in the inhospitable southern reaches of that country.

The Gurungs and their ilk – called 'Lhotsampa' in Bhutan – were mostly Hindu and comprised the peasant class in a country that was predominantly Buddhist. Bhutan's rulers largely ignored the Lhotsampa until the later half of the 1900s when the government became nervous of their rapidly growing population and increasing political clout.

In 1985, the government passed a law stripping most Lhotsampa of their citizenship, effectively initiating a campaign to dislocate them from the land.

Categorised as "terrorists"

Gurung says the problems for her family started in the mid-1980s when the police in her village began "verifying" citizenship. Unable to produce the required paperwork, she says all nine of her children were categorised as "terrorists" by the Bhutanese state.

"It was agony," says Gurung, recalling how she pleaded with the authorities for leniency.

Refugees have always accused the army of setting up barracks throughout southern Bhutan and demolishing their homes. They have also accused the military of arresting, torturing, raping and murdering people from their community.

The Bhutanese government has denied accusations that it ethnically cleansed the Lhotsampa from Bhutan.

Nevertheless, Gurung remembers the night government officials knocked on her door.

"Nepal is your country" she says they told her. "Leave Bhutan. If we return and you are still here, we will lock you inside this house and burn it down."

Gurung says the family fled the next morning, leaving behind everything and joining thousands of Lhotsampa already streaming west toward the border with India. In all, roughly one-sixth of Bhutan's population left in this manner, with the exodus peeking between 1990 and 1993.

The Indian government denied them refuge but allowed them to transit through to Nepal.

Almost two decades later and Gurung is still here.

Growing up a refugee

For Lal Bdr Bhattarai, 21, Beldangi II refugee camp is the only home he has really ever known, as he was just a toddler when his parents fled their village.
Like most Lhotsampa, Bhattarai's father had been taught to sow crops in the fields by the generation before him. Bhattarai's education, however, has been in the classrooms of schools set up by the United Nations and other aid groups.

He has learned English, mathematics, geography and computer skills in the camp. However, he still does not quite know what to do with this education.

"We have no rights in Nepal. We can't even work," he says. Some refugees do work illegally as labourers in nearby towns, but earn as little as 50 Nepalese Rupees ($0.63) per day.

In reaching for a better life, Bhattarai's best friend is in the midst of 'cultural orientation' sessions – a last step before he is to be resettled to Chicago.

Through the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), which runs the camps, and groups like the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), the first major departures of refugees began in March 2008, and to-date around 12,000 refugees have left.

Seeking another home

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), some 66,000 others have expressed interest in being resettled. The US has agreed to take in at least 60,000 refugees, Canada and Australia are accepting 5,000 each and several other countries are offering resettlement for smaller numbers.

Bhattarai calls resettlement a great opportunity to begin a new life.

"We still love our country, but only in our minds – we may never go back," he says.

But even while Bhattarai himself is seeking resettlement, his father is not – holding out hope that one day he will return to his home in Bhutan.

Many of the older generation doubt whether they could work in a western country and adapt to the culture. Their hopes of returning to Bhutan, however, have dwindled over the 15 years the governments of Nepal and Bhutan negotiated refugee repatriation; in the end not a single refugee was able to return home.

The Nepalese government has also never offered to nationalise the refugees, and so in the limbo of the camps the refugees' lives began to stagnate.


When resettlement emerged as a viable possibility three years ago, it tore divisions through the refugee society.

Prajeet Rana, 24, says many of the older members of the community opposed resettlement, claiming that the only just and acceptable resolution to their situation is to return to Bhutan.
They maintained that their land was stolen from them and they must reclaim it.

"It was brother against brother," says Rana. "They'd say 'you are traitors, you are cowards, all that your fathers did in Bhutan was in vain'."

He says riots ravaged the camps, homes were destroyed, several people were kidnapped and killed, and others forced to seek asylum outside the camp for their own safety.

But once the resettlements actually began and refugees started leaving, momentum shifted gradually toward acceptance. In the end, several of those leaders most vehemently opposed to resettlement were themselves resettled.

"I've experienced life for 18 years in this camp, and it is meaningless, and there is no chance to go back," says Rana.

Even if he had the option was open to return to Bhutan, Rana says he would only go if the constitution there was changed to end ethnic discrimination.

"But this is never going to happen."

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Nepalese minority poses a problem for Bhutan

Don Duncan, Chronicle Foreign Service
Sunday, April 19, 2009

(04-19) 04:00 PDT Thimphu, Bhutan --

The impressive necklace of cliff-perched fortresses that dot this Himalayan nation's mountainous perimeter are a testimony to Bhutan's long-standing effort to keep out foreigners.

In the 1980s, however, the tiny Buddhist nation of just 600,000 sandwiched between the People's Republic of China and India found itself with what it considered to be a foreigner problem.

Bhutan's minority population of ethnic Nepalese had mushroomed to represent one-third of the population, causing then-King Jigme Singye Wangchuck to start a "one nation, one people" policy to deport and strip many of their Bhutanese citizenship. The campaign ended with the expulsion of about 105,000 Nepalese through beatings, torture and murder committed by the Royal Bhutan Army that lasted until the early 1990s, human rights groups and deportees say.

"We left because we were scared that they would imprison us, that they would beat us, that I would be raped," said Matimya Moktan, 41, who arrived in Nepal in 1991 and now lives in a small mud stick hut with her three children and husband in one of seven refugee camps in eastern Nepal.

Militant breeding grounds
Locked in political limbo, these camps have become breeding grounds for a fledgling militancy that seeks to overthrow Bhutan's monarchy just two years after the king abdicated in favor of his son, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, who heads a constitutional monarchy that permitted the nation's first democratic elections last year.

"This (insurgency) is something Bhutan needs to be worried about," said an intelligence official in neighboring India who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media.

Analysts say the Maoist insurgency in Nepal - which ended in 2006 - inspired Bhutanese refugees after Nepal's King Gyanendra was forced to abdicate and a new government formed with former rebels.

The ideological affinity with the Nepalese Maoists is evident in the literature the Bhutanese militants disseminate and the similar names they use to describe their movement: the Communist Party of Bhutan, Tiger Forces, the United Revolutionary Front of Bhutan and United Refugee Liberation Army.

"We are preparing a protracted people's war," said a 27-year-old leader of the Communist Party of Bhutan.

"Like every Maoist struggle in the world, we use home-made guns, knives and explosives. After a certain point, we will progress to a high-tech war," the rebel, who goes by the name Comrade Umesh, said, referring to automatic rifles, machine guns, powerful explosives and detonation devices.

Radical alliances
Indian intelligence sources say these refugee militants may soon acquire such weapons through a recent alliance with two Indian separatist groups: the National Democratic Front of Bodoland and the United Liberation Front of Asom operating in the states of Sikkim and Assam located between Nepal and Bhutan.

"Through these alliances, the Bhutanese refugee militants can learn how to make more powerful bombs, acquire superior weaponry and fight more effectively," said the Indian intelligence source.

The insurgency, however, has been limited to occasional bombings that have damaged bridges, fuel depots and electrical transformers in southern Bhutan and the capital of Thimphu. To date, there have been no deaths and just one injury, a woman who suffered a minor shrapnel wound, according to Bhutan's national newspaper, Kunesel.

Bill Frelick, refugee policy director for Human Rights Watch, says the insurgents, who are believed to number between 600 and 1,000, are still too weak to launch an effective revolution. But other analysts say the alliance with militant Indians, the continuing relocation of refugees and recruiting forays into Bhutan are worrisome signs.

In 2006, the United States and a handful of other Western countries offered to resettle more than 70,000 Nepalese refugees. About 7,000 have already left the camps and the rest will be gone within four years, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

Laying groundwork
Frelick said the insurgents could take advantage of the resettlement program by using future remittances to buy weapons and having camps void of more restrained voices. "You could end up with all the more moderate people leaving the camps," he said.

Meanwhile, the militants regularly cross into Bhutan through thick jungles that straddle the porous border to lecture and train ethnic Nepalese residents who remain in Bhutan, refugees say.

"If all we had to show were our weapons, we wouldn't get very far," said Umesh. "So we teach our ideology and train cadres in making explosives and in guerrilla fighting. We are laying the groundwork in Bhutan both ideologically and militarily."

While the government hopes the nation's fledgling democracy will keep the estimated 100,000 Nepalese in Bhutan from insurrection, the rebels predict their ranks will increase, citing a lack of state services, special travel permits required to leave the south and a ban on Nepalese from becoming citizens.

Perhaps with that in mind, the government plans to reopen 15 schools and build more health centers in Nepalese areas by the end of the year.

"The best way a country like Bhutan can defend itself and prevent security problems ... has to be through the people," said Prime Minister Jigme Thinley. "By the end of five years, there will be absolute parity in terms of the provision of ... services and infrastructure. This is how we can prevent conditions for discontent and disaffection from growing in our country."

Nepalese in Bhutan
Since the late 1800s, Nepalese workers have migrated to southern Bhutan in search of farmland and a better life. The region, which is warmer and prone to malaria, had long been shunned by the nation's majority Drukpas, who prefer cooler northern areas.

By the mid-1980s, ethnic Nepalese made up roughly 30 percent of Bhutan's population, retaining their culture, language and Hindu religion, even though many were Bhutanese citizens and had little contact with Drukpas or the government of then-King Jigme Singye Wangchuck.

That changed in 1985 under the king's "one nation, one people" campaign, which mandated all citizens to adopt Drukpa dress and speak the Dzongkha language. Many Nepalese were stripped of their citizenship if they lacked the papers to prove residency prior to 1958. "Deep inside, they knew they never belonged to this country," said Bhutan Prime Minister Jigme Thinley.

By 1991, tens of thousands of ethnic Nepalese were forcibly evicted from the country or fled voluntarily in the face of officially sanctioned pressure, including "arbitrary arrests, beatings, rape, robberies and other forms of intimidation by the police and army," according to a 1994 report by the U.S. State Department.

About 105,000 Nepalese eventually crossed into India, where they were trucked to seven camps in eastern Nepal under the supervision of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. In Nepal, they have remained stateless, even though they share the same ethnic and cultural background.

Some historians say the backlash was a response to the demographic threat. Others say the monarchy feared anti-royalist and Maoist ideologies that were gaining momentum at the time in Nepal.

Today, about 100,000 ethnic Nepalese still reside in Bhutan, nearly one-sixth of the nation's population.

Don Duncan
E-mail Don Duncan at foreign@sfchronicle.com. Research assistance provided by the Investigative Fund of the Nation Institute in New York.

This article appeared on page A - 7 of the San Francisco Chronicle