Resettlement at a crossroad


Resettlement at a Glance
Last month, the figure of Bhutanese refugees resettled in the third countries crossed 71,000. The USA resettled over 60,000 followed by Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Netherlands, Denmark, Norway and United Kingdom with over 37,000 still in the refugee camps facing uncertain future.  For those who decided to make their new homes in the developed countries, it had been a journey of despair, hope, rebuilding and setting a new direction in these countries. The settlement pattern in Australia, Canada and some European countries is primarily with government support allowing skill development and gradual capacity building through language learning, employment and school education support. In the United States of America, where the majority of Bhutanese are resettling, there is encouragement for quicker integration into the job market. Settlement patterns accompany some degree of advantage and disadvantages. There is a mixed feeling and uncertainty among the resettling populace ranging from language learning, adapting to the new environment, understanding culture and many other nuances.

Achievements and Hope for Future
Among the major accomplishments, some are worth to merit mention including finding permanent place of residence they could call home, possibility of citizenship, children’s future and security of life and respect for human dignity.

Permanent residency in these countries gave a base that opened possibilities for exercising rights and ability to live like a human being. With their home and country lost, people had been stripped of human dignity, self-esteem and self-worth. The resettling countries elevated and ensured hope and dreams of becoming citizens, providing the ability to show allegiance to the countries they have adopted. Bhutanese newcomers are regaining their lost rights and humanity compared to their time in Bhutan and life in the refugee camps. The learning curve for these newcomers is stiff and beginning to realize that all human beings were created equal, expressed by some settled in Canada (personal communication, Oct 2012). I would like to believe that it would be similar for those settled in USA, Australia and other countries.

In Canada, Australia and the European counties education facilities and support provided to adult and children’s education during the initial settlement years enliven hope and future to look forward. The older adults who are attending English classes feel that they are learning many things and helping themselves to be independent in daily life like shopping with electronic cards (EBT and Debit), riding buses, going places with confidence and ease. This is the new beginning and they look forward to settling comfortably. Besides what adults are learning in the language classes, the education system has opened their outlook in life and given a much broader vision of life and world.

The most notable achievement is children’s education for all settled Bhutanese. Every parent await for a brighter future for their children and feel that it orients them totally to a new direction and confidence in life. On the personal communication with this columnist (October 2012) some school-going students concurred with this view and they are looking for brighter future in these countries. They are extremely satisfied with the professional manner in which teachers deal with them during their lessons that they understand everything so well and it contrasts with the rote learning system they had been for many years. The students firmly believe that education system in the West prepare them for all-round development with the teaching comprehensive education that includes physical education, co-curricular activities, arts and craft, participation in social events besides the normal curricular subjects. School-going students realize that English up-gradation is their best route to enhancing their opportunities for further studies and employment.

Safety and security of life is another big achievement for the newcomers from where they came in Bhutan and tremendous improvement over the life-situation of refugee camps in Nepal. They recall the camp life with a tone of fear of physical assault, insecure living environment and even fear of death. It used to be a matter of fear and panic when some family members do not return home in late evening which is not a worry in these countries now. That fear and uncertainty had been removed from their life and they are living a peaceful life.

Provision of quality health facilities and child-care support is another substantive achievement that the newcomers can count and feel confident about. They have access to reliable and effective health care system with the support of interpreters for those with low English. In the refugee camps they had access to very basic and minimum health care facilities. Similarly, some community members are so impressed with the kind of nutrition and child care support provided including pre-natal care of expectant mothers, post-delivery care and in some countries continued financial support provided until children become adults.

The expanding Bhutanese Diaspora in the west able to find part-time and full time employment, financial independence and ownership of houses are other signs of success.  This has been achieved quite consistently in the USA, a few in Canada and Australia. Families have managed to pull family resources together and buy permanent homes even with the social assistance provided. This is a highly noteworthy trend promoting sense of human dignity and giving a stronger base in these countries.

Challenges and Obstacles in the Settlement Process
Along with accomplishments there had been and will remain many challenges and issues that the resettling folks are dealing with and have to cope-up with considerable stress. Some challenges are within the scope of family abilities to deal with, but there are situations that they cannot do much about it. Families and communities are working together to resolve many challenges. The community’s belief in group support when in need had been part of the societal system for a long time. They had been practicing it before the start of the resettlement process in the camps promoting what academicians call “social capital”. This is a really noteworthy ideology of communal support Bhutanese newcomers carry to the newly settled countries and it eases the burden on public resources.

The challenges vary from country to country and they also differ with varying times. I will be discussing some of the challenges in this article and would continue to discuss others in later issues in more depth even if I mention them here in brief.

Foremost among the challenges is social tension in the families due to natural generation gap, cultural and language differences, low literacy level and numerous things to learn in the new countries. Obviously it is overwhelming for older adults, and for those with low literacy levels it becomes even harder. As I mentioned in my previous article, the youth and younger generation have much more responsibility to take with understanding and tremendous patience and care. Mostly in the United States, there had been cases of suicide and serious psychological trauma. Youths are also under much stress having to manage many things in the family, maintain jobs and take up skills up-gradation or higher studies. This is further compounded by the language inadequacy, workplace cultural differences, difficulties of people with low or no former literacy skills. This is better managed in Australia, Canada and European countries with the social assistance provided beyond the initial first year of support during which time more time is available for the newcomers to prepare and develop human resource capacities through further education. In the USA this is not possible although some organized and energetic Bhutanese newcomers are making efforts to up-grade their skills on a part-time basis as they are working full time.

The younger generation adults with some educational background are facing numerous barriers to entry to the job market with limited qualification recognition in these countries and lack of local experiences which the employers are always wanting. This is a situation of catch twenty-two for both employers and the newcomers as the employers do not want to risk hiring workers whose educational background are unknown and lack of knowledge of previous work experiences in Nepal or Bhutan. Similarly, it is unlikely for the newcomers to have local experiences when entry into job markets is either totally blocked or restricted. This is a typical frustrating situation for all newcomers in the developed countries and not an issue for Bhutanese newcomers only. In different countries there are new initiatives to help bridge this problem but it will be a continuous process where all parties involved have to devote much more realistic resources and energy. Right now there is policy and program realization in this but sincerity of efforts is often questionable. As newcomers to these countries, Bhutanese need to realize this and cultivate patience as things are evolving slowly.

Another obstacle that I would like to discuss here relates to the health and hygiene in the home environments. This is especially critical as homes in the west are made with enclosed air circulation and if any newcomer do not adapt the cooking and living habits the family health situation can be affected. It is not easy to understand the central heating and cooling system or use the sink and bathroom in a sanitary manner.  There is much effort being made by the Bhutanese newcomers; there is much work to be done and this is one aspect of cultural adaptation that would have no compromise. In addition to this learning, the new culture in the new countries continues to be a challenge. So, more we remain open to integrating into the societies, easier would be the settlement process.

The challenges faced by Bhutanese younger generation with regard to work-study balance, unclear future career path, understanding and embracing the importance of higher education remains a mammoth undertaking.  Interestingly, many of our youths are devoting too much of their time chatting on face-book, i-phones for entertainment and other social media. These are certainly important, but not as necessary at the cost of other important career planning priorities.  Learning to cope up with the evolving new skills required by today’s knowledge-oriented global economy underscores the importance of higher education and the drive and determination for continuous learning. In addition, students emphasize that they are unclear and struggling to decide what career path they will take in life. It is a dilemma equally encountered by the local resident students. One quick reason for this dilemma is wide range of choices and opportunities available and Bhutanese newcomers are not able to navigate the resources in reaching right decisions. I would devote more structured time on my next article to follow as this is an important issue and it is close to my heart. Some clarity on this will definitely be beneficial to our younger generation.

In a nutshell, I like to mention that although there is no clear sign to which way the Bhutanese newcomers are moving, it has been a tremendous success in general, opening many prospects for the future. One thing is certain and clear that people’s outlook to life has broadened enormously, very much unimaginable in the camps and the limited exposure available in Nepal. I would see that our people need to look forward and move on with a positive outlook in life as the sky is only the limit for them in these new countries.

(One of the Contributing Editors of Bhutan News Service, Adhikari has been working as part-time instructor at the University of Manitoba and University of Winnipeg for the last 10 years teaching economics and various international development studies courses including Theories and Methods of Program Planning and Evaluation as part of newly developed Master of Development Practice. Currently, he works full-time as Career Coach and Facilitator at Manitoba Start assisting new Canadians settle and integrate into Canadian life as he continues teaching at the post-secondary institutions. Can be reached at [email protected])