Lethbridge becoming magnet for Bhutan refugees

By the end of the year 5,000 refugees from the small South Asian country of Bhutan will call Canada home, with hundreds of them settling in Lethbridge.

Dan Bahdur Gurung, a refugee from Bhutan, is one of hundreds from that country making Lethbridge home. Dan Bahdur Gurung, a refugee from Bhutan, is one of hundreds from that country making Lethbridge home. (CBC)

Dan Bahdur Gurung, his wife and two children landed in Canada seven months ago.

So far his daughter is the only one who understands English. The rest of the family is struggling to adjust.

Nearly 20 years ago the Gurungs were among 100,000 people forced from Bhutan into refugee camps in neighbouring Nepal.

Now those people are slowly being resettled around the world. Canada is one of seven countries that agreed to take refugees from the camps.

“It’s probably becoming one of the larger ethnic communities in Lethbridge,” said Sarah Amies, who works with Lethbridge Immigrant Services.

Over the last three years the agency has welcomed more than 500 Bhutanese refugees to the city.

For most of them, integration is a challenge. But it helps to be in a smaller centre, Amies said.

“It’s closer, it’s less difficult to get around, there’s English language available, settlement services,” she said.

According to Gurung, the biggest frustration is the language barrier.

He said he doesn’t get enough English lessons. But until he learns the language his future here is uncertain, he said.

Fellow refugee Purna Adhikr is trying to help the new arrivals. He already spoke English fluently — even holding a graduate degree in it — when he came to Canada three years ago.

“For many people it has been quite a challenge. Mainly the people with no education at all or little … they are still in the cultural shock and have not recovered yet,” he said.

Adhikr said he wishes there were more services available, especially English classes.

But the new arrivals are tending to stay in the community, according to Amies. “So that leads us to believe that something’s working.


CBC News

Posted: Apr 18, 2012 12:39 PM MT


New life in Canada has challenges for refugees

By Janis Warren – The Tri-City News


Binod Rai, 24, at home in Coquitlam, believes the Immigration Services Society of B.C. needs to help government-assisted refugees more after their one-year transition.

At 24, Binod Rai is like many young Canadians.

He has a full-time job, a cell phone, a computer, a strong desire to get a better education and a love for his family, with whom he lives.

But a year-and-a-half ago, Rai, his parents and siblings had nothing.

Along with thousands of other Bhutanese refugees, they were sheltered in a camp in Nepal for nearly two decades, a place that had no flushing toilets, no heat and no electricity. The camp, run by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, provide meals and schooling for the children, but little else.

In 2008, Rai’s family was approached and asked if they wanted to resettle. They chose Canada (“even though it’s so cold, not like the hot weather we were used to,” he said) because of its healthcare and educational systems and, some 18 months later, they were on a plane with two other large Bhutanese families from the camp flying to Dubai, then to London and, finally, to Vancouver.

The families spent two weeks at Welcome House in Vancouver to get oriented before moving to Cottonwood Avenue in Burquitlam, where many refugees — including an ever-growing Bhutanese community — live.

Binod's sister Madhu (left) with her friend Rupa

The transition hasn’t been easy, Rai said, though he feels he’s one of the luckier refugees. Unlike many of his countrymen, Rai can speak English, thereby making the integration into Canadian culture all the more smoother.

His two older sisters also have managed to get full-time work (the eldest, Madhu, 26, wants to eventually work in the healthcare sector) while his two younger brothers attend Mountain View elementary and Port Moody secondary; their parents take English as a Second Language classes and collect food at the food bank on a regular basis.

With Rai and his sisters’ wages and their parents’ government subsidies, the family is getting by financially, he said, and they now consider themselves fully Canadian. “We love it here,” Rai said, “and my parents are very happy.”

For the Immigrant Services Society of BC (ISS), the Rais are a success story.

Last year, according to recently released statistics, ISS helped 711 government-assisted refugees (GARs) resettle in the province, with the Tri-Cities being the top destination.

A total of 194 GARs made Coquitlam their home in 2011 — most of them from Bhutan, as part of a humanitarian effort by the federal government to place 5,000 Bhutanese GARs across the country between 2008 and 2013 (the U.S., Australia, Norway, the Netherlands, Denmark and New Zealand also have Bhutanese resettlement programs).

Chris Friesen, ISS’ settlement services director, said more Bhutanese refugees are expected to arrive in the Tri-Cities this year. Coquitlam, in particular, was chosen as their settlement community for several reasons, including availability of affordable housing and pre-existing services such as adult ESL classes and settlement workers in schools. The area is also close to Surrey, where the majority of the Nepalese community lives. As well, the Tri-Cities share general geographic similarities with Nepal.

According to a report, penned in part by Friesen, released last September, called From One Nation, One People to Operation Swaagatem, the Bhutanese refugee resettlement is a history-making program for B.C. as it is the first time all government and school agencies were on board to prepare for their arrival.

And, so far, there are encouraging signs. “Although unemployment is high,” the authors write in their report, “early attachments to the labour market through paid or volunteer work are promising. While there is a long way to go before success can be claimed, the lower affordability challenges and higher employment being experienced are in stark contrast to earlier groups. Another positive development is the extent to which Bhutanese newcomers are utilizing formal services and programs.”

But Rai said after the one-year transition, the ISS services and programs dwindle for GARs. “We want more help,” he said from his three-bedroom apartment where the family of seven lives. “We have to do most things ourselves. My family is okay because we know some English but other families are not coping well with practical, basic things …. We have a sick child in our community and the father is having a difficult time.”

Still, Friesen said more programs are available now for GARs than a few years ago “and we’ve specifically targeted the refugee communities that have been settling in the Tri-Cities with the goal of providing a much more co-ordinated wrap-around in the first five years,” he said.

He acknowledged many Bhutanese refugees find daily life a challenge. “The refugee camp [in Nepal] provided them a sense of community where they knew where their food came from and that there was schooling. Everything was laid out for them and that sense of security and routine now has been uprooted so it is a tremendous transition and adjustment process.”

Note: Binod is a hard-working and an optimistic young man who deserves opportunities to advance in his new adopted country, Canada. He has a wonderful family.

Source: http://www.tricitynews.com/news/138599424.html

The second picture was shot by Raj

Killing Time tells the unknown story about the Bhutanese refugees

Killing Time

In the beginning of the 1990s, a sixth of the Bhutanese population fled their country due to cultural repression. Eighteen years later, Bhutan is known as a peaceful Buddhist Himalayan Kingdom – the promoter of Gross National Happiness. Meanwhile, the exiled Bhutanese are struggling for survival in overcrowded refugee camps in Eastern Nepal. Growing increasingly restless the young see only one solution for peace – war.

Seamlessly weaving the deceptive tropical beauty of the camps with gritty streetscapes from New York, KILLING TIME follows the exiled Bhutanese in the camps and a handful few who have made it to New York to lobby their cause. It shows a forgotten people’s struggle to survive in a world where you don’t only spend your life killing time waiting for a solution, but where time eventually kills you.


Source: http://vimeo.com/5794964

I love this documentary but it is hard to find one; it is neither in my local libraries nor I could find it on-line for a purchase.

Note: Winner of the Grand Prix at the Montreal Human Rights Film Festival, 2008