Saturday, September 6, 2008

Bhutanese Refugees Resettle In Atlanta


They are called the "forgotten people" by relief organizations. More than 100,000 Bhutanese are estimated to live in refugee camps -- homeless and stateless. And nearly 6 dozen refugee families from Bhutan now call Atlanta home in one of the largest resettlement efforts.

For 17 years, she has known nothing of life except the life of a refugee.

"We knew we were in a camp. We don't get any right and justice. And outside people discriminate us and they did badly to us," said Sita Timsina.

Timsina was only 6 years old when her family was forced from their quiet life in Bhutan as orange farmers into a refugee camp in neighboring Nepal.

Until 3 months ago, a make-shift hut of bamboo and plastic was home. Sita says life was primitive, and at times, unbearable.

"No we don't have any power, electricity, no toilet, no bathrooms, no nothing. In the beginning we use open ground for the toilet."

"It's very difficult. There is no electricity, no light. We have to eat food before getting dark at evening time because there is no light," said Indira Nepal, who lived in a different refugee camp in southeast Nepal.

But with the aid of the United Nations and other relief groups, Sita and her family escaped that life as a part of one of the largest resettlement efforts. Of the 60,000 Bhutan refugees allowed in the states, Sita's family is one of 70 refugee families, who have resettled in Atlanta around Clarkston.

"They are coming in great numbers. And their numbers are equal to refugees from Iraq and Burma right now. And we are expecting their numbers to increase. They just started coming this year," said Honishka Adish with the International Rescue Committee.

There are 105,000 ethnic Nepalis, a Hindu minority in Bhutan, who human rights groups say were politically, socially, and religiously persecuted, and eventually exiled from Bhutan.

"It's almost one-six of the population in Bhutan," said Narayan Katel, who was a former Bhutanese diplomat and now helps resettle Bhutanese refugees into Atlanta.

Most of them have lived as refugees in southeast Nepal for nearly 20 years. Their life, their story, their plight is that of what relief groups call the "forgotten people."

"It's basically an issue of human rights," said Katel, who sought asylum from the Bhutanese government.

Sita yearns to return to her homeland of Bhutan. But for now, Atlanta is home. And it is her life here...That has allowed her to hope and dream of more.

"This is the land of opportunity."

The International Rescue Committee in Atlanta provides financial assistance for the refugee families and helps them find housing and jobs.

To make furniture, clothing, monetary donations, you can call IRC at (404) 292-7731.

The Jewish Family Career Services has also set up an emergency fund for the families. Donors looking to donate money can call (770) 677-9300. Item donations can be made by calling (404) 983-2004.

No comments: