Bhutanese in Minnesota

Bhutan-MapBhutan is a tiny land-locked Himalayan country between India and China. It is often referred to as a yam between two boulders. There are three major ethnic groups, one of which is the Lhotsampa (pronounced “Loh –CHAHM-pahs), a Nepali speaking, mostly Hindu group from the south of the country. Almost 98% of the refugees from Bhutan belong to this group. All three groups historically had minimal interaction and coexisted in brotherhood wherever they encountered each other. However, as the Lhotsampa group gained prosperity and influence, the king and the ruling elites, who are mostly Buddhist and speak Dzongkha, began to see them as a prospective threat to their power. As a result, the king and his courtiers passed several discriminatory denationalizing laws to impose a “one nation one people” system. These laws effectively outlawed Lhotsampa language and culture, banning television, removing Nepali language from school curriculum, and banning traditional Lhotsampas clothing.

When the Lhotsampas group began a peaceful resistance movement in southern Bhutan, the king promptly declared the protesters “Anti Nationals” and immediately deployed the army to Southern Bhutan. Hundreds and thousands of Lhotsampas were arrested, tortured, raped, killed, intimidated, and threatened. Between 1990 and 1995, 80,000 refugees fled Bhutan.

Important Facts from UNHCR:

• More than 1/6th of its population, over 100,000 Bhutanese living in seven refugee camps establish in Nepal by UNHCR since early 1990s

• Due to protracted human warehousing situation, the U.S. began to resettle Bhutanese in 2008 and is now one of the largest refugee groups being resettled

The International Office of Migration (IOM) published a chart showing the arrivals of Bhutanese to the US as of 2013. They are are total arrivals for the population, which is expected to see its last cases arriving within the next two fiscal years. Click here to see the chart: Bhutanese US Arrivals

For more information about the Bhutanese people as well as their experience living in refugee camps in Nepal, check out the website: Bhutanese Refugees: The Story of a Forgotten People. This website is a collaboration between PhotoVoice and the Bhutanese Refugee Support Group, two organizations which have worked closely with the Bhutanese refugees. Website includes photos taken by children in the refugee camps

Additional resources:

Bhutanese Refugee Story – From Nepal to Seattle’s Rainier Valley by Pangeality Productions. This video is the story of Khem Rizal and his family, Bhutanese refugees who after living in a UN camp in SE Nepal for 18 years, were resettled in Seattle’s Rainier Valley. In this short piece, originally produced for the The Seattle Channel’s program ‘City Stream’, the producer visited the bamboo hut where the Rizal’s used to live, documenting the journey Bhutanese refugees make as they begin new lives here in the Pacific Northwest.

Cultural Orientation Resource Center (COR) Refugee Backgroundes: Bhutanese Refugees contains resettlement background and information, characteristics of the population, and their life in Nepal and in the United States.

The Flagler College Students In Free Enterprise (SIFE) team has created a series of assimilation “how to” videos for resettlement agencies working with Bhutanese refugees. The video briefly addresses five critical topics the refugees we worked with wish they had known upon arriving to the U.S. Topics include: shopping for groceries, using food stamps, the importance of learning English, opening a bank account, and basic safety information. The video is accompanied by a supplemental information packet to reinforce critical points and offer additional information for each segment.

The other face of Bhutan: a report on the latest refugee arrivals in the U.S.
This Twin Cities Daily Planet article features statistics about the refugee population and excerpts from a talk given by refugee community leader Mangala Sharma to members of the Minnesota refugee consortium.