Nepalese expelled from Bhutan head for US to seek new life (Reproduction)
The 36 hours of flights from Nepal’s capital Kathmandu to New York was the first international flying experience for the refugees
IN Zurich’s gleaming airport, Bhutanese refugee Dambari Kumari Adhikari was exhausted but amazed. “Look at this place,” she said as she gazed in wonder at the neat roads and sleek modern buildings outside the transit terminal. “I doubt Nepal could ever be a tenth of this place.”
The 56-year-old ethnic-Nepali refugee was on her way to start a new life in the United States after more than a decade living in a hut with her family of five adults and three children. Along with 31 other refugees, Adhikari was embarking on a unique resettlement programme with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). She is one of more than 100,000 refugees of Nepalese origin who left Bhutan in the early 1990s and have been living in United Nations refugee camps in southern Nepal ever since.
“I felt I had to leave Bhutan because I was scared for the safety of my family,” said Adhikari who was a widow when she fled, walking six days to Nepal through India in 1991. Despite her dearest wishes Adhikari is not allowed back to Bhutan, so she has chosen to make a new start in the US.
“I would rather go to America than stay in camps for the rest of my life where I have already ruined my children’s future,” said Adhikari, as she travelled to the US with two of her five adult children. “At least in the States, they can have a second chance.”
The 36 hours of flights from Nepal’s capital Kathmandu to New York was the first international flying experience for all the refugees.
Dressed in traditional bright red sari and with a Buddha necklace around her neck, Adhikari carried a tattered white bag covered in IOM stickers. “I am more nervous than happy right now. I have no idea how my life in the United States is going to be,” she said. “I speak no English and I am too old to learn any new tricks.” Adhikari was joining her two sons and a daughter who have already been resettled in Seattle and found jobs.
“I am just so glad and lucky I will be around my family. I have no one left in Nepal,” she said.The US might be the land of opportunity, but “for an old woman like me, the opportunities will be limted,” she said.
Whatever the challenges in starting anew, Adhikari is convinced she has made the right choice. “Camp life was hard and primitive. We had two rooms for a family of five adults and three children. Water, electricity and toilets were luxuries,” she said. After being evicted from eastern Bhutan, Adhikari raised her family alone in Nepal’s Goldhap refugee camp, one of seven UN settlements. “It’s hard raising a family in a refugee camp,” she said. “My children have no citizenship, no money and few opportunities.”
The US and six other countries have agreed to take at least 60,000 Bhutanese refugees, and after endless negotiations between Nepal and Bhutan, Nepal has allowed the refugees to head abroad.
“The decision by the government of Nepal to allow Bhutanese to leave the country is like a good dowry gift for a daughter getting married,” said Adhikari as she clutched a plastic bag with her documentation to enter the US. On the flight from Zurich to New York, Adhikari began missing dal-bhat, Nepalese rice and lentils with pickles and when told by the flight attendant that only European food was available, she made a face and turned the food down. “Why is all the food so sweet? Do they put sugar in everything?” she said.
“I’ve only been away for 24 hours and I have already started missing Nepalese food. How can I live without rice and lentils?” As she touched down in her new home, she looked at her 23-year-old daughter and sighed with relief. “We refugees suffered too much. Everyone has their day and I believe our day has come,” she said. Afp