Motivated by the need to advocate on behalf of Bhutanese refugees, twenty seven resettled Bhutanese of ten states flew to Washington DC this Monday, November 17, undeterred by the sub-zero temperatures and beating rain on roads of DC area. They congregated in the capitol hill for a congressional briefing supported by Hindu American Foundation (HAF), a pluralistic advocacy organization based in USA.
The first ever congressional briefing, called as Bhutan Advocacy day began at 9 am, Monday, meeting with the officials of US State Department in their office. The briefing to the officials overseeing South Asian affairs, particularly Bhutan lasted for an hour and half.
The delegates presented their share of stories covering most important areas concerning resettlement.
Madhap Sharma gave an overview of his personal story of becoming a refugee from his native land, life in refugee camps in Nepal and having resettled in the US. He also highlighted domestic issues faced by resettled refugees in learning language, citizenship test preparation, unemployment and other post resettlement challenges in everyday life.
Dr Chhabilall Sharma emphasized the need for increased appropriations for the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to fund specific programs that address the mental health, economic, and cultural needs of Bhutanese refugees.
Mangala Sharma raised issues related to resettled women and children and emphasized on skills development, in a bid to stabilize families to address post-resettlement stressors.
On foreign policy, Narad Adhikari briefed on the historical background of Bhutanese refugee issue and unyielding bilateral talks between Bhutan and Nepal.
Parangkush Subedi urged the State Department to put international pressure on the Bhutanese government to protect the linguistic, cultural, religious, and civil rights of all ethnic and religious minorities in Bhutan; to democratize and allow open participation by all political parties; repatriate all those refugees, who wish to return with honor, safety and dignity; designate resettle Bhutanese refugees as Non-Resident Bhutanese (NRB), and establish US diplomatic mission in Bhutan.
The actual congressional briefing by the delegates including HAF members took place in 240 Cannon House office building. The briefing to the congress members and their staffs ran through 11:30am to 1pm. Stories of broken families and their right to reunion, particularly meeting of family members left in Bhutan by the resettled ones attracted quite curiosity.
Later in the afternoon at Capitol Hill , beginning 1:30 pm, the delegates divided into four groups, each led by a representative of HAF to meet the congress members and staffs in their chambers. They met representatives from Pennsylvania, Virginia, Georgia, California, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Indiana, Utah, Maryland, Colorado.
Issues were raised on same topics with elaborate discussions. On the domestic front, emphasis was given on language barrier by the elderly people for the citizenship test, mental health and suicide risk factors. On foreign policy matter, early repatriation of refugees living in the camps who wish to return to Bhutan, family reunion in Bhutan and recognition of resettled Bhutanese as Non-Resident Bhutanese were the main issues raised with the Congressional staff.
Madhap Sharma and Dr Chhabilal Sharma served panelists representing Bhutanese delegates while Doria Bramente highlighted the rationale behind making Bhutanese refugees documentary -Refugees from Shangrila. The Panel was moderated by Suhag Sukla, Executive Director of Hindu American Foundation.
Other members of the Bhutanese delegation included BM Rai, Mohan Tamang, DP Basnet, Biswanath Chhetri, Sarman Samal, Kishor Pradhan, Tulsa Sharma, Ganesh Subedi, Rajen Giri, Chuda Dahal, Tika Acharya, Leela Kuikel, Mukti Raj Gurung, Suraj Budathoki,Bhagirath Khatiwada, Motikhar Bhujel, Bhuwan Pyakurel, Balaram Gurung, Bhuwan Gautam, Laxmi Niroula, Suraj Budathoki and Gopal Subedi.
The program concluded at 6:00 PM with the meeting of Congress woman Tulshi Gabbard.
Meanwhile, at the reception night on 16th November, the documentary ‘the Refugees of Shangrila’ was screened for the general public at Shri Shiva Bishnu temple in DC area.
The program was organized and supported by HAF and coordinated by Jay Kansara on behalf of HAF and Parangkush Subedi on behalf of Bhutanese delegation.
With inputs from BM Rai, Atlanta, Georgia