The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North

The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North
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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Jesuit program breaks culture of violence in refugee camps

Published : November 27 2009

DAMAK, Nepal : The Jesuit Refugee Service has stepped in to break a cycle of violence, drug and sexual abuse that had been plaguing thousands of ethnic Nepali youths from Bhutan living in refugee camps in East Nepal.

"All kinds of evils were plaguing the camps," says Jesuit Father Peter Jong Lepcha, program coordinator of Youth Friendly Centres (YFC).

"We realized that there are so many programs being implemented for the refugees in general but nothing for the youth as such."

The YFC program is part of the Jesuit Refugee Service's (JRS) Bhutanese Refugee Education Program, supported by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and Caritas Nepal.

Ganesh Pradhan, 37, in charge of the YFC program in Sanischare refugee camp told UCA that the initiative has given the youths a platform to develop their skills and overall personality.

"The various programs under the YFC have changed the lives of the youths here. Instances of violence that existed earlier, the drug abuse, the sexual abuse and other problems have gone down dramatically," he said.

The Bhutanese of Nepali origin -- known as Lhotsampas -- are caught in a no man's land.

Thousands fled Bhutan fearing for their lives after new citizenship rules were introduced about two decades ago. The government says the refugees are migrants and have no right to live in Bhutan.

The refugees believe their only options are settling down in foreign countries or repatriation to the homeland they still love.

Sun Maya Tamang, 39, wants to go back to her homeland in Bhutan, but she says she still has not made up her mind if she will opt for a third-country resettlement.

"I may just opt for it, I am not sure," she said. "I still feel bad about leaving behind, 18 years ago, the home, the farmland we had, and the happy memories."

According to the JRS, there are now more than 108,000 refugees living in the seven camps in East Nepal.

JRS field director Father PS Amalraj, told UCA News that young people are vital to conditions in the camps.

"The power of the youth can either build or destroy the refugee camps. Keeping this in mind, we established one youth friendly center in each camp and we now have 14,000 members," Father Amalraj said.

The YFC initiative consists of education in journalism, television presenting, sports, music and awareness of HIV/AIDS and other social issues.

An online education program has recently been added to address the growing school drop-out rate in the camps, Father Lepcha says.

The UNHCR reported in September that more than 20,000 Bhutanese refugees had been resettled overseas -- mostly in the US -- with a further 5,000 expected to leave Nepal by the end of 2009.

Courtesy : UCAN


Strangers Welcoming Strangers:

Strangers Welcoming Strangers: reflections on Matthew 25:31-46
I spent this Thanksgiving with my uncle; we are the closest family he has (a four hour drive away), my aunt (his wife) having died a couple years ago and his son (my cousin) spending the holidays in jail. It's a long story, the details of which don't need to be divulged. For my uncle, what mattered was that he was still able to share the Thanksgiving meal with family. It also helps that he loves food and Skyler (my wife) is an amazing cook.

The holidays bring with them an increased awareness of family. However, for me, this focus on family began a couple months ago, in relation to my work with refugees. Familial relationships matter in working with refugees. Some refugees have left their families to flee; some have family members who are in "no contact," meaning, for instance, that a brother left the Bhutanese refugee work to find work in India and has not been heard from since he left, three years ago. The government regulates how we house families (how old children can be before they must be in "same gender" bedrooms...I'll withhold comments on this governmental investment in constructing "proper" familial structures).

A few months ago, I met with a refugee who has been in the U.S. for many years now and is working on an masters degree in refugee public health issues. He told me about how, when he came, he had a family member here to welcome him and help him navigate the complexities of adjusting to life in the U.S. We talked about how much harder it is for refugees who have no family, no one to welcome them, and how we both wished the church would become family to these refugees and welcome them.

I've started using this discussion, coupled with a few verses from Matthew 25 ("I was a stranger and you welcomed me"), to begin my orientation with new churches and volunteers. Every time I do it, though, I feel dishonest. I know the scripture is more complicated than I make it seem.

For instance, Jesus never tells us to seek him in the stranger (or sick, hungry, thirsty, naked, or imprisoned). Nor does Jesus ever promise that we will see him in these people. In fact, the story of judgment presupposes that those who served these people did not know they served Jesus, nor were they expecting to find Jesus there at all. Those who ignored these people likewise did not know who they were ignoring.

What bothers me the most, however, is that the story is not about generic individuals but about two peoples, "the nations" (v. 32) and the king's "family" (lit. "my brothers," v. 40), Gentiles and Jews.

The image of the shepherd separating the people comes from Ezekiel 34, where the prophet rages against the "shepherds" of Israel, who not only neglected the sheep (failing to strengthen, feed, heal, search, find, and guide the sheep) but actually fed on the sheep (v. 4-8). God will reject these shepherds (v. 10) and will come and be the shepherd (v. 11) of these scattered and abused people (Israel). In this process, Israel will "no longer suffer the insults of the nations. They shall know that I, the LORD their God, am with them, and that they, the house of Israel, are my people" (29-30).

Given this background, the strangers, hungry, sick, and imprisoned should be seen as specifically the scattered and abused people of Israel, Jesus' "brothers," or, as Paul puts it in Romans 9 (an important text to keep in the back of our minds here), "my brothers according to the flesh."

Matthew 25, then, retells a story about Israel's failed leaders, God's assumption of that leadership, and the people of Israel being rescued from these poor leaders and the abusive nations into which they were sent. If this is the case, then Jesus' retelling of Ezekiel's story of judgment implies that the most important thing we do is not taking care of our own people, or of all generic people, but of this particular people, the people of God, Israel. Our service to, or neglect of, the least of Israel determines our status before God. To neglect Israel is to neglect Israel's King, and hence to neglect God. Likewise, to serve Israel (the lowliest among them) is to serve Israel's King, and hence to serve God.

If this were all Jesus meant, then it would be surprising that, upon finishing this story, Jesus is compelled to talk about his crucifixion (26:2) and the leaders begin conspiring to kill him (26:3). What is so scandalous is Jesus' assertion that he is this Son of Man (a term he uses for himself throughout Matthew), and thus that Jesus is the embodiment of God's rule, the replacement of the false shepherds ("chief priests and elders" 26:3), and the one through whom Israel and the nations will be blessed. Those who serve him by serving the lost sheep of Israel will "inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (25:34). Jesus has the audacity to declare not just what will happen at the end of time but that he is the one who determines what will happen. Jesus does not just see what will happen; he is what will happen. He is the kingdom, the true ruler, the one who has authority to declare the truth of the end times.

Scripture often plays with the tension between the hidden and revealed, the present age and the age to come. This passage pushes that tension further: for it reveals the basis of judgment that was hidden until the time of judgment. Neither the sheep nor the goats thought that their salvation hinged on what they did with the least of Jesus' family. Both are surprised--the basis of judgment was hidden from them until the time of judgment. But in the story, in which the basis of judgment is only revealed at the time of judgement, the basis of judgment becomes unveiled before the time of judgment. Unlike the sheep or the goats in the story, we are explicitly told that our judgment depends on serving Jesus through the service to lowly Israel. Through Jesus, we now know what he teaches nobody knew until the time of judgment.

In the story, we are never told why the "righteous" served the lowly of Israel. By telling us--Gentiles!--the basis of judgment, Jesus provides us with a new way of seeing our action. We, the nations, are not left in the dark but are allowed to see the truth of our actions. In Jesus, we outsiders are welcomed into the family of God; in Jesus, we are given access to what has been promised to Israel, the blessings of God's kingdom. In Jesus, we see that we are in fact bound to Israel, and hence welcomed into the eternal life prepared by Jesus' Father.

We have no right to hear what Jesus says. We have no right to know about eternal life, or judgment. We have nothing of our own that would make us legitimate heirs. We are reminded at the beginning that we are the nations, those into whom Israel was scattered and by whom Israel was trampled. As these people, the sinful nations, we are now reordered and called into service. We are told to do what we did not know we ought to do--serve God's people, Israel. We are told to believe what was beyond our knowledge--that Jesus is the Messiah of Israel, and hence the ruler of the whole world. We are welcomed, now, to do what was beyond our ability to do--to love (and not seek to destroy) the elect people of God. No longer are the scattered and rebuked people of Israel a sign of our rejection (even their judgment testifies to the fact that they are, and we are not, the people of God). In Jesus, we see that these people are a sign of our hope. In Jesus, we see that they are not a sign of our rejection but a sign of God's gracious presence to us. In Jesus, we who were "far off" see that we are no longer "foreigners to the covenants of the promise" (Eph 2). Jesus tells us what we had no right or ability to know--that we are bound to Israel, to Israel's King, and hence to the true God of all creation.

It is through our call to welcome scattered Israel that we are also called to welcome the strangers among us, for me specifically, refugees. We approach the refugees, however, not as those on the inside who are gracious enough to welcome them in. We approach them through the knowledge that we ourselves are strangers bound to a people who are not our own, Israel. Our lives are not just open and receptive, capable of accommodating (and assimilating) the "aliens" in our midst. Our lives exceed our control, overflowing our own boundaries. In being bound to Israel, our existence is ecstatic, standing outside of itself. We do not need to guard our own identity; it is already mixed. By being bound to Israel, we are free to be all things to all people: we have nothing at stake in being a pure people, in having a distinct identity, in being peculiar or noteworthy. We have no ability to control or shape our identity; we are bound to another people and told that this binding is an act of grace. We believe, and thus we serve the lowly in Israel, and through this service, we find our lives flowing out into the lives of those around us, to those who are strangers among us, including refugees.

Serving refugees reminds us that our lives are not just supposed to be open but ecstatic, not just receptive but transgressive ("stepping across"). We are called to live in an uncomfortable exchange, a series of flows and leakages. Our lives are to be marked by seepage, by moments that escape our own confines, and we find our own lives strangely intermixed with those beyond our normal boundaries. We do not need to distinguish ourselves from anyone else, for we have already been marked as strangers welcomed into the household of God and therefore we know that nothing is alien to us. The most ungrateful and belligerent refugee is not our project but our brother or sister, another Gentile, a fellow foreigner, called by Jesus into the blessings of God's people, Israel. We welcome them as family, as one who like us has been called and bound to another people, the Israel of God. We welcome the stranger not just because we were strangers but because Jesus continually calls to become strange again, to recognize and rejoice in our status as foreigners blessed in Israel through Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of Man, the creator of heaven and earth.

with thanks to Micah D., for his friendly critiques.

From the blog : Rwanda and Theology

UNHCR,Caritas to organize concert

Posted on 27 November 2009 by Editor
By Arjun Pradhan

1974AD scheduled to perform for Music for Relief. Photo By Wave
Nov 27: The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Caritas Nepal are organizing a concert ‘Music for Relief’ in Damak on November 28, with the famous Nepali rock band 1974 AD joining in to promote awareness of issues surrounding HIV/AIDS.
“The main objective of this concert is to bring together the refugees from Bhutan in the camps in eastern Nepal and the local community to fight against HIV/AIDS,” said Rianawati, Head of UNHCR Sub-Office in Damak.
Amalraj , the Field Director of CARITAS Nepal said “Everyone committed to protect human life from the impending disaster of HIV/AIDS will attend and ever remember this music concert. We welcome everyone for this mega show and enjoy it.”
The joint statement also mentioned that the event is funded by Més que un Club, a campaign lunched by Spanish football giants FC Barcelona and the UN refugee agency aimed at bringing sports, education and life skills to refugee youngsters around the world. FC Barcelona is one of the world’s best known sports clubs.
This concert is part of the activities planned by the UNHCR with its implementing partners to commemorate the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence Campaign which begins from 25 November, said the statement.
More than 2000 people are expected to attend this unforgettable concert at the premises of the Saraswati Higher Secondary School, Itabhatta, Damak. It will start at around 12:00 hrs. It is a free show and no passes are required.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Fine BHUTAN-ATLANTA activities here

Click here for Bhutan-Atlanta Activities.

Maids Hunting in Bhutan

27 November, 2009 - If you have managed to smuggle a maid or a babysitter from across the border in the trunk of your car or a military vehicle, it may be time to send them home.

The department of immigration has notified to declare all illegal maids and workers and register them with the nearest immigration office, before they conduct a surprise spot check. Anybody found hiding an illegal worker or a maid would be penalised according to the Immigration Act.

The department has already cleared with the courts and will raid houses, commercial and private work premises, looking for illegal workers, according to the department’s joint director, Rinzin Wangchuk. “There are so many illegal workers like maids, babysitters and others, but we couldn’t control them for so long. Now we’re serious,” said the joint director, adding that the court has accepted their requests to issue search warrants. “Anyone violating the Act will be fined Nu 10,000 on the spot.”

However, to let illegal workers prepare for their departure, the department asks all concerned to register their workers before January 31, 2010. “They’ll need time to settle their payment, salaries or dues. After registration, they can repatriate the workers without having to pay any fines,” said the director.

There is no study or research done on the number of illegal workers present in the country, but Rinzin Wangchuk said that almost every house an illegal worker. “Most of the illegal workers are under-age and therefore fall under child labour. Child labour is prohibited by law.”

Officials said that many illegal workers were smuggled in the country by cheating the authorities. “Most are brought in military vehicles. Some even hide maids in the trunk of their cars,” said the official. A few months ago, the department had asked all non-national wet cleaners to leave the country.




to my shame, it took a student film called sharnarthi for me to be aware of events that occured almost in my backyard. made by rituraj sapkota as part of an honours programme, sharnarthi deals with the issue of ethnic nepali bhutanese refugees in nepal, and then in aotearoa new zealand. bhutan is georaphically close to north east india, and i knew many people from that lovely country as a student. pity it has taken so long to hear about this!

the film, like watani habibi i wrote about earlier, struck me as remarkably lacking in anger, at least on the surface. there was a lot of laughter, situational as well as on-screen. i tend to be an angry person, and this tone of gentility first irritated (where were the protest slogans, dammit!) and then charmed me.

the primary question the filmmaker seemed to be asking is one i can relate to very well: where am i from? even though the refugees are ethnic nepali, they consider themselves bhutanese, and taught the children the bhutanese national anthem. some of them, like rituraj, moved to india, and as refugees recognised by the UN are being resettled in other countries including the US, canada, australia and aotearoa new zealand. as a geographically mixed-up person myself, i have some empathy for the questions of identity this raises. where does one belong? what does one call home? as one of those interviewed in the film says, he considers himself a bhutanese nepali, but does not have citizenship in either bhutan or nepal. what he does have in permanent residency in aotearoa new zealand, and as any migrant will attest, that is no less fraught. this was underscored by the comments of another interviewee, who pointed out that once a humanitarian solution (relocation to a third country) had been reached the world would no longer care about a political/ideal solution (return to bhutan).

i loved that the information pamphlet that went with the screening had a few questions the film-maker wanted the audience to respond to in the discussion time. here are my responses.

Q: Does the film bring out the problems and challenges faced by the Bhutanese Refugee community during and after their stay in the camps?

A: it does, if the primary challenges are those of identity and an ability to settle down to a 'normal' life. possibly the UNHCR and aid agencies are looking after the more 'material' needs.

Q: Does the film clarify the historical circumstances which rendered these people refugees?

A: no, it does not. in the discussion that followed the screening though, rituraj mentioned that looking into the causes and history of the displacement was not his intention. (then why have this question here?)

Q: Do you think the film works for a global audience, both eastern and western?

A: as a person in the audience pointed out, some of the english spoken on the film may have been helped by subtitles. as rituraj responded, though, it seemed a little rude to 'correct' the english when subtitling the interviews.

Q: Do you think the film works for the people of the community and presents their case?

A: i asked rituraj what he, as representative of his community, would have us do. he responded that his own response was to make the film, and that he would leave viewers to their own responses and actions. while i respect and appreciate this position, it highlights the fact that the film does not present a 'çase'. not that i am sure it should!

Q: Does the filmmaker treat, portray and represent the subjects of the film ethically?

A: i think so. it was pointed out by someone in the audience that most of those interviewed were men/boys, and rituraj admitted he felt more comfortable talking with men. while there were sexual attacks on women during the events leading up to the exile, he did not know how to discuss it, and deliberately left it alone. while the film may have gained perspective from the filmmaker's willingness to push himself out of a comfort zone, i can empathise with the ethics of keeping to areas he felt able to deal with.

and that brings me to my complaint against the film - a lack of depth. i felt that many of the interviewees hadn't managed to go beyond the immediate facination of being on camera. i don't know if this was due to techniques in shooting or editing, or even if it is unfair criticism. please remember, i am more opinionated git than film critic!

during the discussion, rituraj mentioned that the indian media largely ignored this issue of the bhutanese refugees, and that in south east asia, if the indian media ignored something, it pretty much got ignored internationally. if this is true, it increases our responsibility as bloggers to talk about things that cannot afford to be ignored. rituraj has suggested that he may try and turn this into a longer production, and i would be glad to watch that when it is done.

Source: This blog.

Resettling Bhutanese in Madison

Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Resettling Bhutanese Refugees in Madison
Thanks to the hard work of many local congregations, and especially the staff of LSS of Wisconsin, Madison is now a sub-office for refugee resettlement. Four families have already arrived in 2009, and we anticipate 125 refugees arriving in 2010. St. John Lutheran of Madison is the gracious host for the new office space for this sub-office.

Most if not all of the refugees arriving in Madison will be Bhutanese. These refugees have been in refugee camps in SE Nepal since 1991, around 18 years! They have been anticipating moving to a new country for a very long time.

Congregations and individuals in our synod have a variety of opportunities to welcome them and help with resettlement. These include:

1) Congregations can contact the refugee resettlement office to volunteer as co-sponsoring congregation. Congregations that co-sponsor a family commit to approximately six months of hands on support for a refugee family.

2) Individuals can volunteer to help with one-time or on-going tasks, like helping on move-in day when the family arrives and moves into their apartment, or as a bus buddy, helping refugees find their way around the city by bus.

3) Congregations or individuals can donated furniture, household goods, and clothing.

If you are interested in any of these possibilities, call Rebekah Johnson, 414.325.3098, or e-mail at

Thanks to Rebekah and many others who are making this a reality, where we have the opportunity in a very concrete way to fulfill the biblical mandate to welcome the stranger. If you are interested in speaking with congregations who already have experience with refugee resettlement, or are looking for a speaker on refugee resettlement, feel free to contact Pastor Clint Schnekloth, contact information below.

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Recent immigrants to First Coast navigate new holidays

Recent immigrants to First Coast navigate new holidays
They are trying to fit in and hoping to learn some new traditions.

Keushi Koirala, a Bhutanese refugee, had never eaten turkey or traditional American Thanksgiving food.

The first time Om Mishra saw a ghost costume at the Walmart where he works, he was perplexed. To make things worse, customers kept asking where the Halloween candy was.

When his son came home talking about a Halloween party and trick-or-treating, enough was enough. Mishra, a resettled refugee from Bhutan, called Bruce Ganger, a Jacksonville friend.

"I really didn't know what it was," Mishra said of Halloween. When he found out, he had to laugh - and be grateful for having someone to call.

New to this country but seeking desperately to fit in, Mishra and other recent immigrants find that American holidays pose a challenge. Often, they are torn between traditional and new holidays, struggling financially, and trying to learn English while deciphering instructions on strange new foods.

If Halloween is mystifying, Thanksgiving is downright daunting. Christmas - especially for those who are another religion - is even more confusing, both a "Hallmark" holiday and a religious observation.

That's why newly resettled refugees in a World Relief English class took part in a Thanksgiving dinner on Tuesday. Most tried turkey, green beans, stuffing and cranberry sauce for the first time.

"It's not just A, B, C, D. This is life, American life," said Michelle Woitt, volunteer coordinator for World Relief. "There's a real eagerness to learn about it."

Robin Koirala, who arrived in May from Nepal, and his mother, Keushi, both took part. Robin Koirala, who now works as a case manager because of his English skills, had never seen a turkey before; neither have many of his clients. He wondered what the symbolism was.

"It's confusing. It's very new and strange for them," he said. "They are curious about what is traditional."

Sometimes when they ask him such questions, he turns to the Internet, or to friends.

Locals who befriend immigrants find themselves learning as much as they impart, said Clay Hamrick, an Arlington resident. Hamrick, his wife, and their seven children are hosting two recently arrived families for Thanksgiving today. One is a family from Burma, another from Iraq. They plan to offer turkey and trimmings, as well as a few Iraqi and Southeast Asian dishes.

"I think it's just exciting to be able to incorporate people into your family," Hamrick said. "To experience us as well as us being able to experience them."

As for Mishra, another kind friend - someone from his son's school - has dropped off a turkey. It sits in his refrigerator, looking slightly out of place. Mishra's wife has to work today, so it will be up to him to figure out how to cook the bird whose symbolism is still somewhat mysterious.

He's hopeful.

deirdre.conner@jacksonville. com,(904) 359-4504

source: jacksonville. com

Bhutanese + Thanksgiving in USA

Thanksgiving transcends nationalities

Wednesday, November 25, 2009
By Kate McCaffrey, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Kate McCaffrey/Post-Gazette
From left, Selma Alwan with her mother, Hakima, Thu Ho and her daughter Jennifer, and Jenet Kenyi enjoy an early Thanksgiving dinner provided by South Hills Interfaith Ministries.
In the middle of a crowd of some 200 people from 23 different countries and the loud buzz of their various languages bouncing off church basement walls, a little Kritika Timsinaran up to Courtney Macurak proudly holding up a rough sketch of a turkey.

"What's a turkey say?" Mrs. Macurak asked Kritika.

"Gobble, gobble," the little one repeated over and over before running off into the mix of nationalities.

Kritika was just one among many immigrants and refugees learning about an American Thanksgiving and making South Hills Interfaith Ministry's Thanksgiving dinner a new holiday tradition.

The dinner, which began as an outreach for 50 refugees in 2007, was repeated again last Thursday at Whitehall United Presbyterian Church.

"It's an opportunity for families to get out and share and talk and see neighbors. We try to break barriers between nationalities," SHIM director Jim Guffey said. "I wish we could do it every month."

A glance around the church basement showed various ethnicities: Some wore vibrant African dresses; others had demure scarves on their heads.

Mrs. Macurak, director of Prospect Park Family Center, a SHIM program site where most of the immigrants live, said the largest populations came from Burundi, an East African nation; Myanmar (Burma), in Southeast Asia; Bhutan, located between India and China; and Iraq. Other countries represented were Morocco, Vietnam, Turkey and Russia.

She said the Prospect Park families vote every year to hold the dinner.

"They won't let me cater it. They want to cook," Mrs. Macurak said.

And the long table groaning with trays of various foods shows they mean it. Mixed in amid an enormous vat of mashed potatoes and platter of turkey was Moroccan couscous, Turkish rice and beef, and goat.

Students from Seton La Salle High School's International Club were on hand to serve as part of a service project.

Hakima Alwan, originally from Morocco, now of Whitehall, helped cook the couscous. She's been in the United States 10 years. Her husband, Joseph, also from Morocco, has been here for 20. So they are Thanksgiving veterans.

Mrs. Alwan will make Moroccan and traditional American fare for their Thanksgiving dinner next week. They usually host between ten and 20 friends and coworkers, usually a mix, Mr. Alwan said, of Americans, Moroccans and Arabs.

Mrs. Alwan can't recall all the details of her first Thanksgiving in the U.S., but she knows the experience has improved.

"My first time here, I didn't like anything. I love it now," she said.

Mr. Alwan's introduction to Thanksgiving was while he was at college in Florida. He said Moroccans celebrate a similar holiday Jan. 23. Family and friends gather to share a turkey, cooked with vegetables, bread and egg. But America's Thanksgiving has the added bonus of lots of football games.

"Now I can't wait to watch the games," Mr. Alwan said.

Before the meal was served, Mrs. Macurak welcomed the immigrants, thanking them for attending and wishing them a happy Thanksgiving. Her message was repeated in Nepali, Turkish, Arabic, Kirundi, which is spoken in Burundi, and Karen, spoken by some in Burma and Thailand.

While a line formed at the food table, a group of five men sat singing African spirituals. One played a guitar while the others tapped out a beat on the table.

"The song is about glorifying the Lord. If we are here then, nothing can move me from the Lord," guitarist David Hajayandi explained.

Tila Phuyal, of Nepal, lives in Prospect Park. Although she's been here for "one year and five months," she hasn't celebrated Thanksgiving before. Does she think it's odd to spend a day stuffing yourself and watching football?

"It's very interesting and enjoyable," she said.

Mr. Alwan, playing with his 2-year old daughter Selma, said his favorite thing about Thanksgiving is that everyone, no matter how poor, no matter where they're from, can get a Thanksgiving meal.

"It's nice of Americans to help each other," he said. "And, of course, it's a day off."

Kate McCaffrey can be reached at or 412-851-1867.

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Adhikari could not believe that one was supposed to look the boss in the eye

Griego: Thankful for having come this far
By Tina Griego
Denver Post Columnist
POSTED: 11/24/2009 01:00:00 AM MST
UPDATED: 11/24/2009 01:35:53 AM MST

Deg Adhikari, formerly of Sector C/2, hut No. 55, Beldangi-II camp, Nepal, moved into a one-bedroom apartment in Aurora two months ago. The building is just off East Colfax Avenue, and from his front window, he can look out upon men walking down the sidewalk drinking beer. He has been told it is not safe to go out at night.

The apartment is furnished in this way: a dingy love seat, a tiny kitchen table, a computer not connected to the Internet, a rug upon which he and two roommates place shoes. The walls are bare but for a large Denver map, held by electrical tape.

He studies this map often, the grids and curving roads that make up the city's skeleton. He has learned Broadway divides east from west and Ellsworth Avenue, south from north. He has learned that when describing his location to someone he should begin by naming the nearest intersection and a helpful landmark. He comes from a place that does not have traffic signals.

He has yet to explore the city. It overwhelms him. He rides the bus to scheduled appointments with case managers or to class on American work culture or for English lessons, though, in fact, Adhikari's English is excellent. He also speaks Nepali, Hindi and Dzongkha. When he finishes his appointments, he returns to his apartment and closes the door behind him. Even that simple act feels strange. He has been raised to believe that a neighbor who always closes the door is a bad neighbor. He makes rice for supper. Rice and lentils, the food of the refugee camp.

At night, he lies in bed and wonders what the future will bring.

Adhikari, who is 26, brought with him two small, tattered photo albums. He looks at the pictures when he cannot sleep. There are his school friends. There are his mother and father and his brothers and sisters. They sit on straw mats on the floor of their hut. The walls were bamboo, but the family covered them with newspapers. The roof was plastic, opaque, as if the sky were perpetually overcast, which it was not.

How green the refugee camp is, people say when looking at the pictures. True, the land was very pretty, though you cannot eat pretty.

It is not quite right to say he misses the camp, but it is all he knew. He was 8 years old when his parents fled Bhutan for Nepal with him and his brothers and sisters. He spent 18 years in the camps. He finished all 10 grades of school and received permission to leave the grounds to finish grades 11 and 12. He was always bright. The Catholics helped him get into college in Darjeeling, India. In three years, he had his bachelor's degree in chemistry. He brought that with him, too.

His family remains in the camp. They are waiting for their visas. He did not cry on the day he left them, "but my heart was crying inside."

Adhikari flew from Kathmandu to Delhi to Brussels to New Jersey to Denver. On the way from the airport to his apartment, he looked out at the plains and the mountains, and he imagined it looked like Darjeeling.

Adhikari knew no one in Colorado. He was simply told that it was where he would be going. When he arrived, he was so happy. He is happy, still, but he is also anxious. He worries about finding a job. He worries about money. He has deadlines by which he must be employed, by which he must repay the $1,416 he borrowed to get here. "I thought I would get a good job, but here it is two months, and I have no work."

Adhikari took a two-week course for refugees on finding work in America. He did not know what a resume was. He could not believe that one was supposed to look the boss in the eye. His classmates included a fellow Bhutanese refugee, several Iraqis and a few Africans, including Nowerina Nakayiza from Uganda.

Nakayiza, who is 25, arrived one month ago, joining her mother who has been here 10 years. "I don't how to say it," she says, "but seeing my mother again, it was the best moment. I missed her motherly love."

They graduated from their work course last Friday. It was a joyful afternoon. The Ugandans danced; the American staff sang, "This land is your land, this land is my land." Adhikari accepted his certificate of completion and, beaming, raised it above his head. "It is a new life," he said. "I am trying to adapt myself."

Someone tried to explain Thanksgiving to him. "From what I know," he recounted, "it is ancient history of when people starting coming to America. Many people died, and sometimes the harvest was not good, and so at the end of the year, they all got together to give thanks to God. Thanks for the harvest, and thanks for those who survived."

This is how this Bhutanese refugee understands Thanksgiving, as the holiday celebrated by grateful survivors. Of which Adhikari is one.

Tina Griego writes Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Reach her at 303-954-2699 or

Thursday, November 26, 2009

ULFA trying to shift base to China: Gogoi

ULFA trying to shift base to China: Gogoi

NEW DELHI, November 23 (PTI): Hours after ULFA militants triggered the latest blasts in Assam, chief minister Tarun Gogoi on Sunday said the banned north-east terror outfit is trying to shift base to China. "I don't know whether ULFA has support from Chinese authorities but they are undoubtedly trying to shift their base to China," Gogoi told a television channel.
A question on reports of ULFA shifting base was also fielded by Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor. "We have been speaking to all our friendly neighbouring countries about the importance of ensuring that their territory is not used against India and certainly by the countries you have mentioned," he said. Tharoor was asked by mediapersons about reports that the ULFA is moving bases from Myanmar and Bangladesh to China.
"All countries, we believe, understand the importance of cooperating with India in that regard." "I don't have any further information beyond that but as a general proposition we do make it sure that our neighbours do not allow their territory to be misused in any way against our interests, just as we will not allow our territory to be used against them," he said. The Assam police meanwhile dismissed ULFA's claim that it was not responsible for the twin blasts in Nalbari district, asserting that the outfit was behind the latest explosions.
"Preliminary investigations have showed that the ULFA is behind the blasts", Inspector General of Police (IGP-Law and Order) Bhaskar Jyoti Mahanta told newsmen after visiting the blast sites here.

Many top ULFA leaders in jail, only three out

Guwahati, November 23 (Agencies): Three decades after it was established with the intention of fighting for a “sovereign” Assam, the outlawed United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) is in poor shape. As many as seven of its 16-member central council are either in jail or in police custody, three are missing and one has retired. Only three top leaders are now around — chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, armed wing chief Paresh Barua and deputy C-in-C Raju Barua.
It was only last week that two senior leaders — “foreign secretary” Sasha Choudhury and “finance secretary” Chitraban Hazarika — were handed over to India after they were arrested in Dhaka. Hazarika has been holding additional charge of general secretary since Anup Chetia’s arrest in 1997. The “arrest” and handing over of Choudhury and Hazarika incidentally came a week ahead of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s arrival in India. The duo was handed over to India despite the absence of an extradition treaty between the two countries.
There is no confirmation about the whereabouts of Rajkhowa and Paresh Barua, but intelligence agencies maintain the former is still holed up in Bangladesh. Barua on the other hand had quietly sneaked out after he was named in the 2004 arms haul case. There are intelligence reports which say Barua is in Yunnan province of China.
Yet another top leader, Anup Chetia, was arrested way back in December 1997 in Dhaka under the Foreigners’ Act and Passport Act of that country. But even as he has completed his 10-year jail term, Chetia is still stuck due to the absence of an extradition treaty. Chetia had last December written to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to grant him refugee status and political asylum in Bangladesh.
“But whatever one says, the ULFA will exist as a force to reckon with till Paresh Barua is around,” said Sunil Nath, who under the pseudonym of Siddhartha Phukan was a central council member and chief spokesperson of the outfit from 1985 to 1992 when the ULFA was at its peak. It was during this period that the outfit carried out several major assassinations including that of industrialist Surendra Paul, apart from several sensational abductions. “No matter how many top leaders surrender, or are killed or arrested, it is Paresh Barua who matters the most. He is one person who has a solid grip across all levels of the ULFA. I often consider Barua synonymous with ULFA and vice-versa,” said Nath, who led the first-ever surrender of the ULFA in early 1992.
Meanwhile, with the latest arrests, the number of top ULFA leaders in custody has risen to six. They include advisor Bhimkanta Buragohain, vice-chairman Pradip Gogoi, central publicity secretary Mithinga Daimary, and cultural secretary Pranati Deka. Deka, the wife of Chitraban Hazarika, first shot to fame when Tata Tea Ltd arranged and paid for her medical treatment in a Mumbai hospital in 1996.
Senior leaders Bening Rabha, Ashanta Bagh Phukan and Ponaram Dihingiya of military wing have been missing since Bhutan carried out Operation All Clear in December 2003. Mrinal Hazarika, Prabal Neog and Jiten Dutta of the important 28 Battalion have since floated a “pro-talk” faction of the ULFA after they were released from jail early last year.
Former Assam DGP G M Srivastava said ULFA’s strength had reduced by half with the arrest of Choudhury and Hazarika. “It will be difficult for the ULFA to immediately find replacements for the duo, of whom Choudhury kept the ISI links and Hazarika maintained the finance,” said Srivastava, now security advisor to Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi.
That, however, does not rob the ULFA of its striking ability as shown by the blasts in Nalbari on Sunday. Last Tuesday, cadres of the outfit had triggered a blast that set afire 16 tanker-wagons of a train that had just moved out of Numaligarh Refinery in Upper Assam.

Bhutanese in exile Ignored for too long

Bhutanese Refugees Ignored for too long
Published on: 23rd November, 2009
By: Dirgha Raj Prasai
In the 18th century, dense forests covered much of Bhutanese territory. In 1725, the Nepali speaking Bhutanese who had already been in Bhutan for centuries were given the responsibility of safeguarding its borders.
The Nepali speaking Bhutanese – Brahmins, Kshetrias, Newars, Limbus, Rais, Gurungs, Magars, Tamangs, Kamis and Damais were making major contributions in the development of southern Bhutan. The Nepali language had been granted the status of lingua franca since history. Therefore, the Nepali speaking Bhutanese did not face any difficulties in terms of language. Even though priority was given to Buddhism, all ethnic groups were free to follow Hinduism or any other religion and to wear any traditional dress. The titles of “Dharmaraja” and “Devraja” – words of Nepali origin – have been used by the King and the Prime minister of Bhutan just as the “Shree Panch” and “Shree Teen” in Nepal.
Nepali settlement
In the establishment of Bhutan, major credit goes to the Tibetan and Nepali speaking Bhutanese and Kuchbihari. The first Royal dynasty of Bhutan was the Namgyal, who came to Bhutan as the “Autari Lama” from Tibet and laid the foundation for a prosperous Bhutan. Dharmaraja Namgyal established law in the country. In 1861 B.S., the laws, regulations, rights and measures prevalent in Gorkha were introduced in Bhutan. At the time of Dharmaraja Namgyal, Bhutan’s relationship extended not only with Gorkha but also with the Malla Kings of the Kathmandu Valley and the Sen dynasty of Nepal.
Skilled craftsmen were taken from Nepal to build Buddhist stupas and monasteries. Hindu priests from Nepal were also well recognised during the period. Relations between the Hindus and Buddhists were extremely harmonious since they were engaged in building government monasteries and celebrated their respective festivals together. The Royal family strongly believes in the Shivatwa to be the Buddhatwa and the Buddhatwa to be the Shivatwa. That is why the King had great faith in the Halesi Mahadev of Khotang and Swaymbhunath in Kathmandu. Thus, as the Nepali speaking ethnic groups had settled in Bhutan since the early days, they were regarded as authentic Bhutanese citizens.
In 1907 A.D., Devraja Pellop Wangchuk abolished the “Dharmaraja” system and started the Wangchuk dynasty, which was adopted through a conspiracy. No one can deny the contributions of the Nepali speaking Bhutanese in the growth of Bhutan before the Wangchuk dynasty and thereafter. During this period, the East India Company ruled India, and it didn’t want Bhutan to have a Royal regime. The Nepalese government helped in constituting a delegation that included Devraja Pellop Wangchuk and convinced the British to maintain the institution of the Royal dynasty in Bhutan.
Chandra Shumsher maintained good relations with the British, and it was through him that an understanding could be reached between the Wangchuk dynasty in Bhutan and the British in India. But, it is indeed disappointing that such historic events have been forgotten through time, and in 1988 the Nepali Speaking Bhutanese were thrown out of Bhutan. Following the census taken that year, the Nepali speaking Bhutanese were ordered to either show proof of their residence prior to 1958 A.D. or be expelled.
Later on, even those who produced such evidence were beaten up and forcefully expelled and their documents burnt. This is indeed great injustice. Where are the people who talked about human rights and justice? In 1971, when Bhutan became a member of the United Nations, its population was declared as one million, and later in 1988 it came to be only seven hundred thousand. This was a strategy to compel the Nepali speaking Bhutanese people to leave the country.
The forceful eviction of the Nepalese speaking Bhutanese from the country shows the brutality of the Crown of Bhutan, and recently in India, Bhutanese King Jigme Singhe Wangchuk told the media that not all Bhutanese refugees in Nepal are Bhutanese. This is a blatant lie. Ignoring all realities, no one can trust such a tactic to label genuine Bhutanese citizens as illegitimate citizens. Such a statement goes contrary to the interest of both Nepal and Bhutan and needs reconsideration. The statement may set a bad image of the King and the Kingdom in the international community.
Bhutan is considered a Buddhist country, but its actions against its own citizens such as framing false court cases, inciting rape and expelling their citizens from their own country is a cruel irony. Nationalism is not merely a sentiment but also the right to live decently as human beings. Yet, when its citizens have been deprived of their own nationalism, how can Bhutan be considered a nation? The Bhutanese refugee problem was almost on the verge of being resolved, but for the mandatory adoption of the Jongkha language and the Kira (Tibetan dress) dress by all citizens.
The refugee crisis is not merely a bilateral problem between Nepal and Bhutan because the Indo-Bhutanese treaty of 1947 states that the defense and foreign policy of Bhutan shall be controlled by India. In order to solve the Bhutanese refugee problem, Nepal, Bhutan and India should make joint efforts. India cannot stand aloof from this problem as India’s collaboration in fueling the problem is apparent in one way or the other, and it’s for sure that the issue cannot be resolved without Indian consent.
It is well known to the Bhutanese King that the Nepalese speaking Bhutanese people are faithful to the Wangchuk dynasty. The book written by Bhutanese leader in exile Tek Nath Rijal called “Nirvasan (In Exile)” also highlights the real situation of Bhutan. The fact is that Nepalese speaking Bhutanese always wanted to live in peace by maintaining good relations with the King. Since some time, the Bhutanese leader, Rijal, has been visiting various relevant centres in Europe and America and advocating the rights of the Bhutanese refugees to return to their home country. The international community is also showing sympathy for Rijal and the refugees. Consequently, the Bhutanese King cannot ignore this, and he should be flexible. Without solving the refugee problem, talking about constitutional monarchy and democracy is useless. Therefore, the monarch should be in a position to recall the Nepalese speaking Bhutanese citizens, including Rijal, back to their country without conditions so that they can settle down there with dignity as they had prior to 1988. These people are ready to accept all terms and conditions Bhutanese citizens must follow. Should the Bhutanese King himself assess these facts and find out the reality and solve the long standing refugee problem, this would lead to the prosperity of Bhutan and the Bhutanese royal institution.
Prasai is an Expert Author at EZine.
The Orginal Source of the article can be found at:


Sewa USA Serve Bhutanese Settlers

Sewa Sandesh 123: November 8, 2009

From Editor’s Desk:
Sewa USA is wholly engaged in serving the Bhutanese refugees in as many as 17 cities across the country, empowering them in as many ways as possible. It is said that more than 15000 Bhutanese have already reached USA out of a total expected number of 60000 that the country has accepted to accommodate. This is according to an accord signed in 2007 under the United Nation High Commission of Refugees (UNHCR) program. Other countries that would welcome the remaining number of 50000 Bhutanese refugees are UK, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Denmark and Norway.
We appreciate the effort of Sewa USA in serving the Bhutanese refugees and providing them the social & cultural support that the host country cannot provide and this is being appreciated by the beneficiaries as well as the host country. A detailed report of the same will be carried in the next issue of Sewa Sandesh.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

DARJEELING: Bhutanese want mukti from Gorkha Janmukti Morcha dress dikat

DARJEELING: Bhutanese want mukti from Gorkha Janmukti Morcha dress dikat

Posted by barunroy on November 17, 2009



A dress code diktat by Gorkha Janmukti Morcha asking all students to wear traditional dress on three days a week has the Bhutnese government worried about its students in Darjeeling. The Bhutanese students have been asked to wear traditional Bhutanese apparel.

A Bhutanese government delegation has sought exemption for its students from the dress code diktat, as it feared that they would become soft targets for anti-Bhutan ultras. It was ironically, a similar decree by Bhutan king that had forced thousands of Bhutanese students of Nepal origin to flee Bhutan and seek refuge in refugee camps in Nepal.

The Gorkha Jamukti Vidhyarthi Morcha, the student’s front of the GJM, has refused to give any concession and said that the code will be strictly enforced. If the Bhutanese students had no objection to following the dress code, why should the Bhutan government and more important, the West Bengal government rush into the matter, it questioned and alleged that it was a conspiracy by the West Benal government to propel a minor issue into an international one.

“No expemption will be allowed,” the Morcha declared.

In Darjeeling there are 400 Bhutanese students and 450 in Kalimpong studying in colleges like St. Joseph’s College, Darjeeling Government College, Ghoom Degree College and Salesian College Sonada, among others.

Now, the Bhutanese govenment plans to take up the issue with the external affairs ministry.

A delegation of Bhutan government officials called on the Inpsector General of North Bengal Kundan Lal Tamta, who assured the delegation of protection to Bhutanese students if they wanted to ignore the dress code. “The Bhutanese students feel threatened and apprehensive. As they are foreign nationals they have nothing to do with the issue. On top of that the Bhutanese Government feels that they coould be the targets of ultra outfits as they would stand out in their Bhutanese traditional outfit” Tamta said after the meeting held on November 12 in Darjeeling.

Keshav Raj Pokhrel, General Secretary of the GJVM questioned “When the Bhutanese students have no problem in sporting their traditional clothes, why is the IG interfering? He has stated that he would be providing police protection to the Bhutanese students. This is a conspiracy hatched by the State Government to disrupt the peace and tranquility in the Hills before the next round of tripartite talks slated for December 21 in Darjeeling. We will foil all such attempts.”

Incidentally after the end of a month-long “cultural revolution” of the GJM (in which Hill residents were asked to wear traditional clothes) on October 25, GJM Supremo Bimal Gurung had asked all college students to sport their traditional attires three days a week (Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday) continuously. Accordingly students sport traditional clothes to college including students from Bhutan wearing traditional Bhutanese clothes.

“From tomorrow checks will be severe. The Youth wing of the GJM has also assured us of all cooperation. If the State Government can use their police force to protect the Bhutanese students then we will ensure that they wear it. Practically there is no existence of police in the Darjeeling Hills, we will further ensure that the police disappear theoretically also” warned Pokhrel.

Janchuk Dorji, President of the Bhutanese Students Association of Darjeeling talking to HT confirmed of the meeting held in Darjeeling. “Officials from the Indian and Bhutanese side along with Bhutanese students were present in the meeting held at the Darjeeling Circuit House. In the meeting we were asked not to wear our traditional clothes.”

KL Tamta, IG, North Bengal stated that the Director Law and Order of Bhutan led a Bhutanese Government delegation that had called upon the State Government asking for help. uld become soft targets to anti-Bhutanese ultra

On January 16, 1989, the King of Bhutan issued a decree requiring all citizens to observe Driglam Namzah – a traditional code of conduct and dress based on the Drukpa culture of the ruling autocracy. Institutes were opened up to teach Driglam Namzah. These institutes taught people how to eat, dress, and speak. “Gho” and “Kira” (Drukpa dresses) were enforced along with Dzongkha language. Soon there was a ban on Nepali language.

The alleged ethnic cleansing gave way to an exodus in 1990 as thousands of Southern Bhutanese fled the country to seek refuge in neighboring India. Now nearly a lakh Bhutanese refugees of Nepali origin languish in refugee camps in Nepal. Many anti-Bhutan ultra outfits are believed to be operational.

Courage Beyond their Years

Courage Beyond their Years
For “lost” refugee children, ‘education is their mother and father.’
By Dori Cahn

Photo credit: Thai Children’s Trust.
The journey a refugee takes is, at best, challenging: leaving home and loved ones behind, surviving war or political turmoil, living in a refugee camp for an uncertain period of time, and eventually ending up in an unfamiliar place and having to learn an entirely new language and culture.

It must be impossibly hard when you are a child with no family.

Every year, unaccompanied refugee children come to the U.S. to find a new life and a new family. They have either lost their parents to war, politics, or disease, or have been separated from their families. Some, like the “lost boys” of Sudan, have endured long treks to safety. They have all spent time in refugee camps, many not knowing if their parents are alive and with little means to communicate back home.

Surprisingly, perhaps, many of these kids are secure and successful in their new lives.

“The kids we work with are incredibly resilient and gracious. They want to be part of a family and they want to go to school,” says Molly Daggett, program manager for Refugee and Immigrant Children’s program of Lutheran Community Services Northwest, the Seattle area agency that resettles unaccompanied refugee minors with foster families. “Our kids overwhelmingly graduate from high school, and many go on to college. They do incredibly well.”

Relief workers first became aware of child refugees traveling on their own in the late 1970’s, when waves of displaced Vietnamese flooded into refugee camps in Southeast Asia. The United Nations created a special designation for these minors, resettling them with foster families in third countries.

LCSNW began placing Vietnamese and later Cambodian and Laotian children, finding foster families and training them for the challenges of caring for refugee youth. Seattle and Tacoma have since been home to hundreds of refugee children, coming from countries as varied as Haiti, Cuba, Rwanda, Somalia and Afghanistan.

Most are older teens when they arrive, but they usually had strong family connection and upbringing before they were displaced.

“For being refugees, most of these kids are different,” says Christy Hedman, who fostered 2 boys from Sudan. “They became refugees at 5, or 6, or 7. They had been raised by their mothers, and despite the horrors they went through, had a strong early raising and good relationships.”

Hedman’s boys were 17 when they arrived in 2000, along with 28 other minors from Sudan. They had both left their homes when they were 5 or 6, and had spent the intervening years in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya. When they arrived in Seattle, “they were really skinny,” Hedman says. “In the camps they were only getting about 1,000 calories a day.”

The years they spent with her were like “18 years of a childhood compressed into three.” She had to show them how to climb stairs and to turn on a light switch. One of them thought that, when they were driving, the car was signaling to her which way to turn. They were curious about everything: “They were like 3 or 4 year-olds, when you can’t keep them out from under your feet,” she said.

But when it came to school they were serious and committed. They adapted quickly because they already spoke English, having learned in the Kenyan refugee camp. Hedman thinks the years spent in camps made them hungry for a chance at a good education.

“They hit the ground running when they got here,” she says. “They knew it was a great opportunity and wanted to take advantage of it.”

“The Sudanese kids had an expression,” says Molly Daggett, “‘Education is my mother and father.’ They had lost their parents, so education was going to be what would guide them.”

In the past year, LCS has resettled a number of Burmese children who were living as refugees in Malaysia. Daggett anticipates more Burmese arrivals, and possibly Bhutanese refugees from Nepal. But she stresses that they never know where the next arrivals may come from.

“They are survivors, they are the kids who had the resiliency, and the ability to engage adults and get the help,” says Daggett. “It is quite amazing. I still marvel at it.”

For more information about the program, or about becoming a foster family, visit

Bhutan: Shangri-La or Ethnic Cleanser?

Bhutan: Shangri-La or Ethnic Cleanser?

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009 @ 22:28 UTC
by Sonam Ongmo

A few years ago when the Fourth King of Bhutan voluntarily stepped down to make way for democracy, there was a spate of articles in the media about Bhutan. Almost all these articles – with a few exceptions – could be grouped into two camps: one glorified Bhutan as the last Shangri-la, the others claimed that it practiced ethnic cleansing.

The National Geographic aired a documentary which named Bhutan, the tiny Buddhist kingdom as the world's last Shangri-La. It celebrated its mountains, glacial walls, alpine highlands and misty forests and mentioned “Bhutan is a Living Eden where respect for life, in all its many incarnations, endures like the land itself”.

Landscape of Bhutan. Image by Flickr user Jmhullot, used under a creative commons license
Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar at Real clear World said:

Bhutan has done many things to deserve its Shangri-La reputation. Its forest cover is a very high 72%, and it has pledged to keep this above 60 % for eternity.

Meanwhile, Nanda Gautam at Ex Ponto countered:

A new trend in the sphere of human rights violations is flourishing! In contrast to Bhutan’s development philosophy called ‘Gross National Happiness,’ which many delegations visiting Bhutan are proclaiming a ‘good lesson’, Bhutan also offers a bad lesson: strategic violence in the form of ethnic cleansing, a lesson the world powers will find difficult to deal with. The ordeal of Tel Nath Rizal reflects how the state’s violation of one person’s rights spilled over to affect an entire minority. The minority population has already been reduced dramatically.

Most of these writers, if not all, were not Bhutanese. So how is it that they came to view this small country – the size of Switzerland and a population of 600,000 – in such extremes?

The first group, the admirers, usually came from the west where capitalism has led to a way of life that may have equipped them with material contents, but left many with a gaping spiritual void. They are people seeking for things they do not find in their own cultures; yet find it elsewhere. Often in places like Bhutan – largely mysterious, exotic and peaceful. So when they find it, they tend to see only the things they want to see and find only the things they want to find.

But this also applies to the second camp, the ones who hate Bhutan. They have little or no understanding of the country’s geo-political situation. They don’t understand the history or the complex nature of the refugee problem; and they are either sympathizing with the cause, or they just need a cause.

For the first camp, the search for Shangri-la didn’t just happen; it has been ongoing since 1933 when James Hilton depicted a Shangri-la in his novel, Lost Horizon based on an article by Joseph Rock about his travels to the Tibetan borderlands. But more often than not, it is Hilton’s version that they are after thus refusing to see Bhutan as a country like any other – inhabited by human beings, with its share of problems.

Bhutan is far from being the Utopia despite its largely tranquil history. As a poor country Bhutan has its share of social problems and challenges and the biggest blight to its good reputation so far has been the issue of the refugees.

A nation-wide census in the 80’s found thousands of illegal settlers along the country’s southern borders. Most of these people were Nepalese people from Nepal and India who came to Bhutan seeking economic opportunities and utilize the large tracts of free agricultural land along porous borders. Free health and educational facilities were also an added attraction. At around this time, some Lhotsampas (Ethnic Nepali-speaking Bhutanese) who were educated by the Bhutanese government in overseas universities like Harvard and Cambridge returned to Bhutan nursing their own political ambitions.

Bhutanese refugees in Nepal. Image by Sudeshna Sarkar, ISN Security Watch
The problem came to a head when the Bhutanese government demanded all illegal settlers, leave the country. This decision was opposed by the ambitious Lhotsampa leaders who sympathized with the settlers and so mobilized protests against the Bhutanese government demanding democracy and overthrow of the monarch. The environment to nurse their political ambitions was extremely favorable. They galvanized the southern people’s discontent with violent protests in which they decapitated heads of two Bhutanese and planted them at a government office. The Bhutanese government who had never experienced anything like this cracked down and arrested many of the leaders while some escaped to Nepal.

What resulted was a situation where both sides accused the other of what unfolded. Lhotsampas claim that anybody who was Nepali-speaking was forced out of the country. As the Bhutanese Community of South Australia blog mentions:

From 1988, the human rights situation aggravated, when Royal Government enacted discriminatory policies to depopulate the Lhotshampas - Southern Bhutanese of Nepalese origin, predominantly Hindus.

The Royal government treats Lhotsampas as second class citizens. They are persecuted, discriminated and denied the most basics like access to education and health facilities. They are deprived of their cultural rights and are forced to adopt the cultural tradition, costume and language of the ruling elite. In the late eighties, the Royal Government adopted retroactive citizenship legislation and started to disenfranchise and depopulate the Lhotshampas. Tens and thousands of them were forcibly evicted, who ended up in the United Nations established refugees camps in Nepal. [..]

Having failed to see the possibility of repatriation, a vast number of Bhutanese refugees have accepted the offer given by Australia, Canada, Denmark, Netherland, New Zealand, Norway and United States for third country resettlement.

The Bhutanese government claimed that while some were asked to leave, many citizens left voluntarily under threats from their own leaders. Bhutan’s first democratically elected Prime Minister Jigme Y. Thinley wrote at Bhutannica:

The situation in the south is not a simple problem. Its causes are complex and perplexing as the resultant human drama that is unfolding before us. Just who is the victim or villain is a valid question. The answer must be sought with a deeper understanding of the problem. [..]

Among the villagers in' the south, every day is a nightmare. But their voice is not heard by the media, and their human rights appear not to be of any importance. Explanations by the Government are dismissed as propaganda and plain untruths. Even concrete evidence is seen as fabrications.

The Bhutanese feel that they have been betrayed by a people they had welcomed, in whom they had placed their trust and with whom they were willing to share a common destiny. But the general attitude of the Bhutanese toward their southern compatriots do not indicate any rancour.

The adoption of human rights is a convenient banner that the dissidents and the Nepalese supporters have raised before the international community. But their greater aim is to generate international sympathy for the dissident cause, which is to grab political power.

The story got complicated as the refugees arrived in Nepal. UNHCR set up camps for the Bhutanse refugees in which free food and stipend was given and in a few years the numbers rose from 5000 (1991) to 100,000. The handouts attracted many people other than Bhutanese to those camps as more than half of Nepal's population live on less than a dollar a day.

Ethnic cleansing is a very serious charge. People who make that accusation about Bhutan should visit the country and see that thousands of Nepali-speaking people still live and work there; that even before the crisis the Fourth King encouraged integration of the ethnic groups through inter marriage with special cash incentives. Many even hold very senior positions in the government.

So what is Bhutan? A ‘Shangri-La' or ‘ethnic cleanser'? Neither, is the answer. And it would be nice if people really stopped imposing their dreams of an Eden, or their disillusionment of failed political causes and ambitions, on this little Country.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Let's talk turkey

Let's talk turkey

Monday, November 16, 2009
From over the river to Grandma's house to over the hill as Grandma we've had so many Thanksgivings with a lot of stuff in between.

Early Thanksgivings were a challenge. Just where to sit everyone, often in houses without dining rooms, meant some sat on the arms of chairs, boxes with pillows or babies on laps. Our mothers cooked "from scratch" on wood stoves. My mother would chop a huge Hubbard squash into workable pieces on the block outdoors, cook it, squash and season it, yet once en route to the table, it slipped from the fingers to the floor. It was hardly missed with all the other root vegetables but love's labor lost!

My dad's job was to amuse us by having Headless Tom turkey trot on the white enameled tabletop. Diddle, diddle, diddle, . . .

I made my first Thanksgiving dinner at age 12 when my mother was bedridden. She instructed me from the pillows to the pot. I don't remember how I did — guess the others were thankful they didn't have to do it.

My second attempt at turkey was in the 50s when I had my first apartment in Long Beach, Long Island — affordable but so desolate and barren in the winter — me and the gulls. I invited my sister, aunt and uncle to dinner. My face was flushed from fuss and flurry as I remembered my mother's to be. The pride soon drained when my uncle, the carver, pulled out a sack of cooked innards from Tom's cavity.

Just as my marriage introduced more ethnic cultures in the family mix, so did the traditions. My siblings married French-Canadians adding toutierre to the menu. My German mother-in-law's rutabaga with potatoes and creamed onions were included with my family's Harvard beets, mincemeat pie and Grammie Lowell's Indian Pudding. Later when the three Italian in-laws joined the family, antipasto and lasagna might appear.

The first time the big Duffy family sat at our table laden and labored over with luscious food, cornucopias, candles and linens, the men asked the ladies to sit back so they could still watch some overgrown kid kick a pigskin about on the television. In a twit, I shut off the TV, slammed the doors shut and with hands planted firmly on each hip, addressed the old sports with, "I spent all day cooking this meal! You better damned well spend a few minutes enjoying it!"

This actually claimed my role in the family. My mother-in-law was beaming. Thanksgiving dinners take 18 hours to prepare. They are consumed in 12 minutes. Half-times take 12 minutes. This is not coincidence. - Erma Bombeck.

When I was expecting my second child, I couldn't stand the smell of turkey. I bundled the bird up and stuck it in freezer. Yet, even much later and thawed, it still nauseated me, so I sent it flying and stuck to my doughnuts.

Over the years, a French exchange student was our guest with "Tres bien, Madame" and a Fresh Air Fund kid from the ghetto who announced, "I don't like white meat." Now he's a cook on Riker's Island. Recently, I have dined with Turkish and Bhutanese refugees who didn't have a clue what they were eating but were truly thankful of the moment.

Thanksgivings stay traditional for most, invite change for others or arouse emotions for many. The turkey itself has changed. Some now are marinated, boneless, smoked, deep-fried. The range-grown lean and lanky turkeys are now like our young ladies, plump and full-breasted — even the Toms. Oh, oh, another quote: I love Thanksgiving turkey. It's the only time in Los Angeles that you see natural breasts. - Arnold Schwarzenegger.

But the saddest for some may be to dine alone. While you can eat what you want, where you want, when you want and with or without half-time frolics and really pampering the palette, it isn't the same without the family hassle.

Bon appétit, mon amis!

Bhutanese in NH find American Dream elusive

Refugees in NH find American Dream elusive

Sunday, Nov. 15, 2009

The American Dream hasn't reached the living rooms of Pema Tamang and Bhakta Dhital. Job rejection letters and public-assistance checks have arrived instead.

"There are no jobs and nothing to do," said Tamang, a Bhutanese refugee who arrived in New Hampshire last December.

The Concord resident worked three months at Walmart before his temporary job ended, and he hasn't received one callback from any of the 150-plus businesses with whom he's left applications. Tamang recently had his electricity turned off briefly after he fell behind on his payments.

"It's not like I don't like to pay for the bill, but I have no money," said the father of two.

"I'm just trying to have a better time and a better life," said Tamang, 27, who attends English classes twice a week. "I hope that this bad time doesn't go like this forever."

Refugees arriving in the United States in the past year have run straight into strong financial headwinds.

In New Hampshire alone, more than 51,000 workers went jobless last month, nearly 23,000 more than a year earlier.

New Hampshire had 561 refugees from nine countries settle here during the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, including 462 from the Asian nation of Bhutan, where thousands fled more than a decade ago and relocated in nearby Nepal resettlement camps. Since the early 1980s, more than 6,500 refugees have made New Hampshire their new home.

Refugees receive a variety of government assistance when they arrive here, including at least four months of rental help, as well as food stamps and medical care.

"Refugees historically would get jobs within three to six months after arrival," said Amy Marchildon, director of new American services for Lutheran Social Services of New England, which settles refugees in the Concord-Laconia area.

"Now, it's probably taking between eight and 12 months. Because there's a higher competition for jobs, the refugees might be at a disadvantage if they don't have the same level of skills," she said.

Public assistance

A half mile from Tamang's apartment, Bhakta Dhital and his wife, Asha, live in another Loudon Road complex. They now rely on city welfare to help pay the rent.

"I'll do any kind of job," said Bhakta Dhital, 28, who arrived here in June. "We want to be independent."

Carol Moore, a Concord psychotherapist who has been helping the Dhital and Tamang families, said she wishes the resettlement groups would do more.

"It drives me nuts," she said.

Marchildon said refugees need to learn to become self-sufficient.

"I think a challenge for resettlement agencies is managing refugees' expectations. Many, but not all, have higher expectations than what the service delivery is," she said. "It's a new system that they have to learn. Refugees have been in situations where other agencies are supporting them and keeping them alive and haven't had to make decisions for them.

"The feeling we should be doing everything for them can be a blow when we're trying to teach them to do things for themselves," Marchildon said.

"With the downturn in the economy, the hope of starting their lives sooner rather than later is exacerbating their feelings of frustration and anger," she said.

Barbara Seebart, the state's refugee coordinator, said the current economic downturn means it's "basically taking longer for refugees to get jobs."

Possible employment

The Dhitals sometimes rely on a Bhutanese friend who lived in their refugee camp. Devi Bhattarai of Concord has a car, a 2000 Nissan, that helps them when searching for work.

Bhattarai and Mr. Dhital believe they have a job lined up for January at a Loudon landscaping business.

"I have to sell my skills," said Dhital, who taught computer science in Nepal.

His wife said she doesn't like being jobless.

"It's makes our body so lazy," she said.

Pema Tamang (left) of Bhutan and his friend Ganga Chimariya have been seeking work to support their families. (THOMAS ROY)

The Dhitals spent 18 years in a refugee camp of 18,000 in Nepal after their families were driven from their Bhutan homeland. They were married in the camp last year.

Sure, their Concord apartment doesn't have cable and they rely on free wireless that fades in and out. But it's a far cry from their Nepal residence, which was made of bamboo and plastic.

Rainy season meant wetness inside and out, Mrs. Dhital said.

"When I was in Nepal, I thought if I get a chance to go to America, I'd make my future bright," Asha Dhital said. "In Nepal, it's very, very hard."

Nepal meant food rations and no driver's license. It also meant no future.

In the United States, they believe in a future, even if it might take longer to brighten. Already, they feel they are ahead in life.

"Compared to Nepal, it's very luxurious here," Mr. Dhital said.

Linked from here:

Meeting on Bhutanese: from Sristi blog

The meeting
I attended a meeting at the University Of Paxton in Oakland. The meeting was held by the Oakland police department. The meeting was held because many of the new Bhutanese refugees were being harasses and robbed by gang members and others in Oakland and Fruitvale areas. Two of the new Bhutanese refugee boys were beaten and robbed and several were pointed gun at and robbed. The Bhutanese social organization was concerned about the new refugees and had contacted the Oakland police department to do something about the problem.

At the meeting some of them complained that they felt threatened and unsafe walking even in daylight to the police officers. At the meeting I heard the police telling the audience that police are their friends and that they should report. He said to Report! Report! Report! He told the refugees that if something seems suspicious they should report immediately. He also asked them to not to stare at the robber or the “bad” guy but instead try to remember what he looks like or what kind of cloths he is wearing. He said to note details such as what kind of hair, skin color, hair color, what kind and color of shoes, what color of stitching on the jeans etc... about the robber.

I thought that the meeting was good very useful and the Oakland police department responded and reacted to the problem promptly and also they were organized and just. They were able to win the confidence of the Bhutanese people and also assure them that there was help available. The information they provided were useful and everybody attending the meeting benefited in some way. They were able to gather a group of people who are very new to the country and teach them about the system of the police and crimes in Oakland. It was a wonderfully done job the Oakland police department