Monday, March 31, 2008

New home for Bhutan refugees


The refugees are expected to arrive on April 24 after spending six weeks in the Mangere Refugee Centre.

Another intake of about 40 will arrive in the city in June.

New Zealand is taking up to 120 Bhutanese this year, to be settled in Christchurch and New Plymouth.

They come from a group of more than 100,000 Bhutanese people who have been in refugee camps in Nepal for more than 15 years.

The mainly Hindu people were forced out of the Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan in the early 1990s and have not been allowed back.

Tens of thousands of them are now being offered a new life in the West.

Refugee Services Aotearoa training co-ordinator Judi Barshin said New Zealand was the first country to take them in. She said conditions in the Nepalese refugee camps were basic. Their shelters were made of bamboo and netting and regularly flooded during the monsoon season.

Service providers were planning an official welcome for the group and were holding a culture and language day to learn more about their Bhutanese background and beliefs, she said.

Barshin was looking for more volunteers to work with the second group of refugees arriving in June. Also for any donations of bedding or furniture.

Christchurch Resettlement Services (CRS) manager Felicity Jardine said the refugees were likely to bring the legacy of distress and trauma with them.

CRS would help by providing social and youth work, along with mental and general health services and promotion.

"There will be difficulties in accessing interpreters as there's no existing community. We don't have people who speak Bhutanese and only a very small Nepali-speaking community," she said.

Bhutan is a tiny Himalayan kingdom of 700,000 inhabitants sandwiched between India and China.

Known by its people as the Land of the Thunder Dragon, about 20 per cent of the population has sought asylum in India and Nepal since 1991 owing to their government's stance on ethnic minorities.

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