So far, more than 200 Bhutanese refugees have been resettled in the Netherlands through the third country resettlement program, while another 50 or so have come to the country on their own initiative.
The first and second batches of Bhutanese refugees were resettled to the Netherlands in early 2009, before which some families were also resettled individually for reasons of vulnerability. Almost all those who came in 2009 are currently well settled in houses spread over various parts of the country. The Bhutanese refugees who arrived in 2009 celebrated their first year of their arrival on February 16 at a church hall in a town called Sneek. Various dignitaries including the mayor and city council officials of towns like Wommels, IJlst, Workum and Sneek were invited. Bhutanese dances, songs, storytelling, speeches and traditional Bhutanese dishes entertained the enthusiast guests and participants. A large numbers of Dutch people were also present to congratulate the Bhutanese on having completed first year of their new lives.
Those who came during 2010, who number roughly 100, arrived in April, May, June and July of this year, and are now residing in the reception center for resettled refugees in Amersfoort. There, they receive courses on the Dutch language, computer classes and other types of lessons that help prepare them for life in the country. During this period, the COA (Centraal Orgaan Asielzoekers) matches them to permanent housing, a process that, on average, can take between four and six months. Some of those who arrived in April and May are preparing to move out into their own houses, while others who came later, such as in June and July, are still waiting. An NGO, the Dutch Council for Refugees (VVN), also has a presence in the center to help assist with questions relating to integration, or for example to assist refugees in requesting the resettlement of their family members who are still in the camps.
Even while they wait in the refugee reception center in Amersfoort, the Bhutanese who arrived in 2010 have a lot of contact with their fellow countrymen who came to the Netherlands before them. When they first travelled from the airport to Amersfoort, the newcomers were accompanied by other Bhutanese who helped them to find the ingredients for and to prepare a Nepali-style daal bhat.
For the first time in the history of Bhutanese refugees in the Dutch land, Teej
festival was organized on September 12, 2010 at the reception center. The Panchami puja was held in the morning followed by a delicious vegetarian meal, and Teej dances and songs were performed until late in the evening. Sanginee dances were also performed together with other traditional songs and dances by elderly women, who happily gathered for their festival.
Under Dutch law, all newcomers are required to participate in an integration course, where they learn about basic aspects of Dutch life, culture and language, after which they are provided with additional training of their choice and ultimately, are expected to work.
This process can take between three and five years, throughout which period the refugees receive enough financial assistance from the government to live a modest life. At present, nearly all the Bhutanese are busy with these integration courses, and some are already in the process of sitting for their examinations.
Youths who want to pursue their higher studies are required to complete state level Dutch language proficiency examinations, after which they can join various formal courses in colleges and universities. Resettled children are the quickest to benefit from resettlement in the Netherlands. Many have already mastered the Dutch language, and now are now attending regular schooling together with Dutch children.
Despite the popular rumor that the Dutch language is difficult and hard to master, Bhutanese students have already started gearing up for their further education. On September 25, 2010, six Bhutanese students were among 100 refugee students who attended a graduation celebration for refugees, held at The Hague University of Applied Sciences. Speakers included noted Dutch personalities such as Ruud Lubbers, who served as prime minister for the Netherlands from 1982 until 1994 and as UN High Commissioner for Refugees from 2001 until 2005, and Gerdi Verbeet, the President of the Dutch House of Representatives. The program, which was organized by the Foundation for Refugee Students (UAF), was organized to congratulate refugee graduates, and included workshops on issues such as improving Dutch language skills, and applying for jobs, and a job market to bring refugee graduates in touch with potential employers. The Bhutanese participants were Durga Prasad Mainali, formerly from Beldangi 2 and a fresh engineering graduate from the university, as well as Nawa Raj Gazmer, Manu Timisina, Tulsa Mainali, Jigme Gurung and Sukman Tamang, all of the latter being newly resettled Bhutanese refugees, who are currently in the process of pursuing their further studies in The Netherlands. This year, UAF supported 220 refugee students in graduating from universities around the country, while 3000 other refugee students are working hard to meet the same goal.
Bhutanese refugees in The Netherlands are more or less happy till date. The Netherlands has a strong social security system, and no one has had any problems in obtaining health care, education, housing, food, or meeting other basic needs. Shyam Gurung, a young Bhutanese refugee youth who was suffering from cancer, was resettled to the Netherlands as an emergency case along with his whole family on May 11, 2010. They were warmly welcomed by the Bhutanese in the Schiphol airport. He and four members of his family are now ready to shift in a permanent house in Hardewijk. Shyam has been receiving medical treatment since his arrival in The Netherlands, and after several tests and surgeries in various Dutch hospitals his condition has dramatically improved.
The one main source of frustration among the Bhutanese has to do with the locations where they are settled. The Bhutanese are spread over the country rather than concentrated in one area, which means that some are allocated houses in the extreme north of the country, while others have been settled in the extreme south. Public transportation is expensive, which sometimes makes it hard for people to gather and attend joint events with the other Bhutanese. Nevertheless, the Netherlands is a small, flat country, covering a surface area of a mere 41,526 square km. This means that travel times are short, which makes it relatively easy to visit one’s relatives in different parts of the country and return home on the same day. As people get settled and transportation costs become less of an obstacle, the days of feeling isolated and far from one another will soon end.