Finally grandmother comes from refugee camp


Ramesh Gautam’s grandmother has lived nearly 20 years in a makeshift bamboo hut with plastic. Soon, she comes to Tysvær, together with her two sons and their families.

Abajana Baral: Maternal grandmother of Ramesh Gautam

“I think she is happy to come here. She is obviously eager to get away from the refugee camp, and to meet us again,” says Gautam about his grandmother, who is soon turning 83. He came to Tysvær on February 6, 2009 together with his mother and sister. The family members from Bhutan are UN refugees and Gautam says that he had learned good English and therefore would prefer resettling in the U.S or Australia. But, the UN Refugee Agency sent the family to Norway because he has his single mother, and that Norway has a well maintained social security system.

“Now I am glad that we came to Tysvær. This is a small place, and it means that it is easier to know people. People talk with us and it’s good to be here,” he says.

Environment and Energy
Currently Ramesh Gautam is studying engineering at the University of Stavanger. Here he will take a Master’s degree in environment and energy. He has already a Bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Nepal and has taught for five years in schools in Nepal. He was only six years old when the family became political refugees for about 20 years in Nepal. They were forced out of the country when people struggled for democracy in Bhutan. They come from the southern Bhutan, and refugee camp was located in Nepal.

Of the 100,000 refugees, 40,000 are sent to the United States, 500 are sent to Norway. The largest group is in Rogaland county municipality, with 82 persons.

“We are in contact through our community organisation and we meet at different cultural events,” says Gautam. He is also a journalist for the web site, where he writes in English.

Gautam has worked as a bilingual teacher for Bhutanese children in Norway. He is therefore awarded a scholarship to be able to be a teacher in Norway.

Ramesh Gautam

“I have worked with young students for many years, and therefore I will take pedagogy after I finish my Master’s degree, to be qualified to work as a teacher. I like it. I am a teacher,” he smiles.

“ Do you work hard?”

“Yes, I do and my sister is in job practice at Tysværtunet and plans to study nursing,” he says.

“And do other family members come to Tysvær soon?”

“Yes, two uncles and their families of 12 persons,” smiles Gautam.

Finding houses
When Gautam came to Tysvær, his family lived first in Tysværvåg. It is not easy to get around without a car.

“The problem to live far from Aksdal is that there are very few buses in the route. I am of course searching for houses and for sure is not easy to find in houses Tysvær but I want to live here,” says the 27-year-old , who hopes that everything gets solved with time.

Need more houses and practice place
Tysvær municipality itself is house-less, exactly like the refugees. They need practice places significantly within handicrafts and agriculture.

In January, they would have already made the contract of two detached houses ready for the refugees from Bhutan. Hilde Anita Vold is a Refugee Coordinator who accounts that in the last ten years the municipality has welcomed 171 refugees. The number could have been higher.

“The problem is to get houses. Now we need something very soon,” smiles Vold who thinks it’s great to be with and welcome the new residents. She understands that people may be hesitant to rent out their houses to people who have come from a difficult situation and are totally unfamiliar with Norwegian culture.

“But they need not have to. There is a large device that follows them up. Refugees receive follow-up of a team, including an introduction about how to live in Norway,” says Vold, while Erik Waagaard recalls that renting a house to the refugees is renting a house indirectly to the municipality. He points out that NAV (Social office) takes care of necessary fittings. These are statutory duties.

Need practice places
First, the refugees are provided language practice which is followed by work practice. It can help the refugees to get integrated into society in a positive way. The refugees should help with daily work, and will be free work force for a period.

“Win – win,” smile Erik Waagaard in NAV and Silje Bygland at Tysværopplæringssenter, which is an elderly education center in Tysvær. They work together to help the refugees become independent.

“People are satisfied when they get to recognize that they make themselves useful,” says Bygland.

“And no one wants to be dependent on NAV. They want to a permanent job and own their own house as the time passes,” says Waagaard. They point out that two-three refugees bought their own house in the municipality last year.

Work practice is often the platform for further career choices.

“What kinds of practice places are in need?”

“Work of various kinds. We tend to treat the refugees’ background. Many lack documentation of their competence, but are capable within a field, for example, car mechanics, plumbers or health care workers,” says Hilde Anita Vold.

“We have for instance no practice place within agriculture. We would really like to have one in Tysvær,” says Waagaard.

Refugees in Tysvær municipality

  • Decisions by the council to accept 20 refugees a year.
  • In last 10 years, 171 refugees come to Tysvær. After reunification, the figures reach a total of 213 persons.
  • Act on two-year introduction program from 2004 says that it is a collective responsibility to give refugees the opportunity to learn Norwegian and get a job.
  • Since 1994 the municipality has welcomed 272 refugees. In addition, 54 family members have come for reunification.
  • The refugees come from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Bhutan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Chechnya, Palestine, China, Bosnia, Kosovo, Kurds and stateless.

Refugees from Bhutan

  • In 1890 people Nepali origin people from Nepal were settled by the government to settlers in southern Bhutan where they cultivated the soil and landscape.
  • In 1907, Bhutan crowned its first king.
  • In 1958, residents got citizenship of Bhutan.
  • In the 80s, the new rules were enforced that made people lose their citizenship if they were not loyal to the king. The reason should be that the king feared that people in the south (Lhotshampa) who had, in the history, come from Nepal, can dominate Bhutanese culture and language, and that the country, with the passage of time,  can be a part of India. The language and dress of the Lhotshampas were prohibited.
  • In a census in 1988 people of southern Bhutan were declared illegal immigrants if they could not document the receipts for the agricultural tax and settlement since 1958.
  • Several thousand people were displaced from their homes.
  • 100,000 people lived in refugee camps in Nepal, waiting to get back home. 20,000 people tried to get asylum in India or other developing countries. Those who were left in the country report discrimination.
  • In 1998, the government started to resettle people from the north to houses of the refugees.
  • In 2003, the documents the refugees have show that 75 percent of them have the right to return home. Refugees became furious and desperate, because they did not get opportunity to return. In 2005 the King of Bhutan said that the people of the refugee camps may have recently lived in India or Nepal.
  • The United States said in 2007 that they will accept 60,000 refugees. Other countries which showed interest to resettle refugees from Bhutan are Australia, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway.
  • Total population in Bhutan is around 700,000. No other country has the percentage dispel of so many inhabitants compared to its total population.

Source of facts: Development Organization Photo Voice

(First carried in the Tysvær Bygdeblad weekly has been translated into English from Norwegian by Ramesh Gautam.)