Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Refugees from Bhutan begin arriving in Everett

Source: HeraldNet

There are so few people of Bhutanese descent in the United States that the federal Census doesn't offer them a category.

The landlocked Asian nation of Bhutan has fewer than 1 million residents. Over the past 20 years, more than 100,000 Bhutanese have fled to neighboring Nepal to escape persecution based on their Nepalese ancestry.

The U.S. agreed to resettle up to 60,000 of those refugees late last year.

Last week, one Bhutanese family of five arrived in Everett, said Jan Stephens, director of this region's resettlement program for Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.

By Wednesday, the fledgling group is expected to double, to 10 people. Stephens' organization is expected to pick up another family of five from the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

"After that there could be another 10 people, for a total of 20 over the next couple of months," Stephens said.

That's more certainty than Stephens has had about the refugees coming to the Puget Sound region in some time. Resettlement restrictions that emerged after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks have stalled the flow of refugees. Federal officials are so cautious about blocking entry points for potential terrorists that other groups have suffered, Stephens said.

The Bhutanese are the largest group the U.S. has agreed to accept in recent memory. Still, the arrival of the refugees is a trickle compared with the waves of other groups such as Vietnamese refugees in the 1970s and 1980s, and refugees from the former Soviet Union in the 1990s.

Everett isn't a major resettlement city for Bhutanese refugees, but it's never clear where later groups will end up, Stephens said.

The city has large Iraqi, Russian and Ukrainian refugee communities, as well as growing communities of African refugees.

In one major way, the Bhutanese refugees don't fit the stereotype of third-world arrivals: most speak English.

That will make a big difference in their immediate success here, Stephens said.

The family, which could not be reached for comment, is living in northeast Everett. They have been given $450 per person to pay for their first month at a nonsubsidized apartment, Stephens said. The only other assistance they'll receive is whatever they can get through public social programs, which are available to all families that meet state requirements.

The father already has enrolled in a welding training program at Everett Community College, said Van Dinh Kuno, director of the Snohomish County Refugee and Immigrant Forum, which helps families enroll in classes and find jobs. The father began classes on Monday.

"They are so eager to learn," Kuno said. "They're willing to do anything."

Reporter Krista J. Kapralos: 425-339-3422 or

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