Sunday, October 12, 2008

Choosing Australia with Bhutan in heart


By Indra Adhikari

  Bhawani's house in Bhutan shows that poverty was part of his life in that country as well.

Bhawani Acharya faced it twice when he had to change the way of his life. Two days before the festival of Dashain, he left Nepal for what he hoped as a wonderland.

In 1993, he was forced to flee his country of origin, Bhutan, to take asylum in Nepal – a country he had never seen before.

Acharya is among thousands of Bhutanese refugees to leave Nepal for resettlement to western countries, who have assured to absorb over 70,000 of them in the next five years.

However, this was, as the refugees themselves say, is not the solution of their choice but an alternative to get rid of their miserable life as refugees.

His eyes had welled up even though tears did not roll down the cheeks, when he talked to Nepalnews in Kathmandu before flying to his new homeland – Australia. The tears were reflection of his love and affection to his motherland, not of happiness, according to him. Bhutan, in recent years, talks of gross national happiness while over 100,000 of its citizens languish in Nepal, in UN-monitored refugee camps.

An illiterate, who was born in a remote village in southern Bhutan, Acharya had absolutely no idea what lies in store for him in a distant land, 'across the seven oceans' to borrow his words. Language barrier, culture shock, religious differences and separation from relatives have added woes to his elderly life.

Don't you like to be repatriated?

Wife of Bhawani (middle in red blouse) outside her hut in Khudunabari refugee camp in Jhapa, eastern Nepal, before her departure to Australia.

He frowned and replied, "What are you asking? Bhutan is my country and I have the right to go back there. If not me, at least my children will go there. This (third country resettlement) is not a lasting solution."

His son and nephew were smiling when Acharya spilled over the sentimental statement. Nephew Dhyanu added, “Yes we hope to get back to that land from where we came. Australia is not our choice.”

US, Australia and Europe have been craze among residents of many countries, yet Bhutanese refugees put priority to their own homeland. It has astonished many, like rights activist Tapan Bose, who in an interview with Australian radio some months back said he was amazed by the choice of refugees.

A nervous Dhyanu is all set to begin a new life in a new country

Dhyanu was merely seven years old when his family was evicted from Bhutan. He hardly remembers under what situation he lived or under what threats his family left Bhutan. Even though he grew up in Nepal, completed his Bachelors degree here, Dhyanu speaks of his affiliation and affection towards the land he was born to. He was the only one of his family to leave Nepal that day for Australia and was quite nervous from the separation.

Both these people can hardly imagine their life in an Australian metropolis. They are confirmed to be resettled in Melbourne, the second largest city of the Island-country. "I don't have any idea what I should do," Dhyanu says.

Nervousness had engulfed Bhawani more because he was not only illiterate but also has poor health and cannot do physical works. "Will I be a milkman?" he assumes about his work because he had little milk business while in camp that helped him buy vegetables and clothes for children.

"I will do anything that comes. After all, I have to live."

Dhyanu was a teacher in a boarding school while in Nepal. This has given no chance for him to acquire any professional skills that might be helpful for him in Australia. The orientation classes organised by resettling countries he attended made him more confused about choosing a profession. It was just like an information session on life and laws of that country.

Bhawani still hopes his children will be able to get back to Bhutan one day

What Dhyanu and other family members of Bhawani, since Bhawani personally did not attend, learnt from orientation classes was that Australia has stricter laws. Dhyanu assumes he would have a hard time to adopt with the situation because he has grown up in Nepal where freedom has superceded responsibilities.

Bhawani rests his hope to live a decent life compared to his days in Bhutan and Nepal. He is more hopeful about the future of his children who are growing up and likely to get acquainted with the Australian society faster.

Above all, they hope to get back to their country to overcome the suppression Nepali speaking people have been facing in that country since two decades like this song says – we shall overcome one day. Oct 11 08

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