Long Journey of Challenge, Hope & Excitement


Bhutanese refugees, who had been forcefully evicted by Bhutan and after languishing in the UNHCR-supported seven camps in Eastern Nepal, are beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel as they are being settled by the core group of countries comprising of the USA, Canada, Australia, Denmark, Norway, Netherlands, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. It is highly admirable that donors have responded to their needs with a right-based approach to providing services. The refugees are tremendously thankful to the UNHCR that took the lead in resettling them and the core group countries that worked together to host them in their respective countries. The bulk of the responsibility and initiative has been taken by the USA, which settled over 28,000 people already by the end of June 2010. Over 32,000 people have already been resettled in the West and a large section of the refugees are expected to get resettled in the near future.

Understandably, as these large numbers of people are beginning their new life in these countries, they are facing number of settlement challenges. Some of these challenges are comparatively easy issues that will get resolved during the course of resettlement but there are others without less obvious solutions and people have to learn to find ways of coping. In my personal opinion, new immigrants in these countries have to take especial efforts in making their transition smooth and quicker by taking some initiatives, being proactive and adapting by listening to the settlement agencies, people who have settled earlier and gone through the same process and those who have good knowledge of the settlement process. The primary responsibility for adapting and settling for our Bhutanese population rests with the younger generation, who needs to take concerted efforts and patient helping elders and others who are less educated.

In this piece, I have tried to discuss some of the settlement issues and the ways they could be handled. Families have to work together and communicate with each other as the needs of settlement are different for young people as compared to the old ones, males and female needs are also different and it changes with the change in time.  I would like us to believe that we need to make use of various assets that we have by working together and analyzing who can do what within the families and the communities. Many are already doing it but we need to be creative and explore what is available and what we can do.

Housing amenities
The settlement agencies in different countries have measures to look after the housing needs of new arrivals. The arriving families have to cooperate with the agencies and discuss amicable solution that is convenient to the new occupants and housing providers. Sometimes the arriving families put up conditions that do not work in the situation and it is best to ask what is available and what is possible and being realistic within available budget. The renting market in the Western countries are governed by legal provisions and it is important to seek information about what are the occupancy conditions, expectancy of tenants, the demands of the landlord and the neighborhood where the families are settling. Even if it is alright for the families, neighbors have restrictions and physical and psychological boundaries within which we are expected to live and function. As new tenants and new arrivals in these countries, we are expected to respect those laws and there are penalties if we do not abide by what is allowed in the communities. Small things like walking into neighborhoods and others property is not allowed as the privacy laws, conventions and requirements are well established.

Health and hygiene concerns
The way apartments are constructed prevent air flow easily and how you maintain health and hygiene inside the apartments affects health situations of the residents. Things like regular vacuuming rooms and walk-ways, cleaning toilets regularly and keeping them hygienic is part of the western living. The way new arrivals from developing countries cook their food is not always suitable in the way houses are built in the west. They trap air and often you will find houses with strong odor of spices and oily, fried food items. It leaves strong smell on our dress and we need to adapt our cooking style by reducing fried items and limiting the amount of spices we use in our food. Often opening windows and doors and letting in fresh air helps to drive away the smell. But in countries like Canada, it is snow-covered outside for over six months of the year and it is not possible to open windows and doors often. We need to use air-freshener and bake bread sometimes, which reduces other odor. We have to be creative and apply various measures to make our living hygienic and pleasant. There are also health issues that could emerge as a result of living in unhealthy and unclean apartments. Landlords would be reluctant to allow future occupancy if they become aware of our living style. When we go to the office and if our body and cloth smells, co-workers would not be very happy to work with us.

Need to support uneducated fellow Bhutanese
Within the arriving Bhutanese population in these countries, we have a varying range of people—some with high educational levels but many with limited literacy as well, especially our elder folks who had no opportunity of going to school. It is a big problem of communication in these countries as we need to communicate in English. We have a limited capacity in the older generation to pick up and be comfortable with the required level of communicable English in these countries. Some may pick up faster and some may be reluctant or even incapable of developing functional literacy. Other members of the community have to help them, especially the younger generation have a double burden of not only raising children but raising this cadre of elders is our responsibility. It would not help us blaming anybody but have to develop coping mechanism using all available resources within the community and developing all possible network of support outside the community. There are many people interested to volunteer, especially the retired would be happy and willing to help if they can. We need to develop mechanism to make use of this potential and communicate with each other. This is where our Bhutanese organizations can play a big role, not in talking only about politics.

Employment and skill development
The level and amount of support provided to the Bhutanese arrivals in various countries varies. In Canada, the federal government supports Government Sponsored Refugees (GAR) for one year and there is good time for developing job skills and employment preparation. In my understanding, Australia supports much longer and until you are prepared to take up employment. In both these countries there is additional support if you are able to find out about them and explore possibilities. In the USA, the support system ranges from three months in some states to eight months in others. The good part of it is that there is a settlement counselor who follows through and makes sure that people have long term job. People have to explore and see what they can do, what type of resume we need to develop, who can help in developing good resume, writing selling cover letter, networking skills, interview skills and many others. This is the hardest challenge of settlement not just in the beginning months and years but for continuously in the West. The West is a competitive and individualistic society where we have to be able to sell our skills as much as the efforts in selling goods. We need to develop skills, perform well in our jobs, develop professional qualities and show that we can perform. If we cannot prove our worth nobody would be willing to hire the new arrivals. As a big part of this process, we need to learn the culture of working well with people, getting along, following instructions and contributing in our expertise areas. It will take time but in the long run the right efforts will pay off.

Understanding the culture and etiquette
The laws and social conventions in different western countries vary when it comes to acceptance of new immigrants and the way we are expected to behave. The USA is considered a melting pot and the prime message and requirement of this message is that once you are in America you are supposed to behave like Americans and forget about your original culture. In Canada, multiculturalism is valued by law and conventionally where we are required to behave like other Canadians in some ways but we are encouraged to retain our inherited culture, language and religion. The legal system and the people actively promote multiculturalism. In Australia, it is similar but it is a bit insular country being geographically isolated. It has the conservative, old thinking into the system and the people but over the years there has been growth in tolerance and respect for multiculturalism. The younger generation in most of these countries is much more understanding and accepts people of all colors and background compared to the older generation and understandably so. Our expectation as new arrivals and future citizens of these countries is to learn the system, culture and the people as much as we can and adapt. We also face a huge challenge of retaining the culture and the language. There are varied models in this as some people have retained their language and the culture and others have lost it. It is easy to be part of the melting pot but hard to regain what is lost. So the challenge thrown to new arrivals is to think carefully what you would like to do and consult among the family members.

No more refugees
The concept of being refugees is so deeply ingrained that it makes us all feel we cannot think otherwise and people would like to call us refugees. You have to learn to fight with yourself and let others know that you were former refugees and do not want to be called as such any more. You have equal rights as any other individuals in these new countries and should learn to live that way. The feeling of psychological inferiority needs to be slowly unlearnt and you should feel that you are capable individuals. The countries that have brought you would like to give you equal status as any other individuals in these countries and should learn to behave and feel that way. We also have equal responsibilities as new citizens or going to be citizens in these countries and should be uphold that responsibility with full pride and dedication.

(Based in Canada, the author is a development professional. He can be reached at: [email protected])


  1. Tika Sir, congratulations for this great article. Resettlement has problems of its own kind and our people would definitely cope better if the learning environment is there. Articles such as this – glimpses into some of the general problems and suggests ways for avoiding some of the traps.

    Most importantly, our people must understand that the western societies have laws for everything and they are followed strictly. Any ignorance of the law will not be an excuse for breaking the law. So try to stay from such activities that would potentially breach the law.

  2. The article looks very informative. All Bhutanese in diaspora should go through this piece of writing. Both thumbs up, Mr. Adhikari. You have really jotted down helpful clues to Diasporic Bhutanese communities.

  3. hi,your article is quite informative to those who are still in the refugee camps and are still preparing their minds…but not to those who have already resettled.Most people resettled have learnt how to cope up with the situation and are doing quite well.They are not as they were in the camps.It is good that bhutanese have the power to learn quickly the things they see around. I am proud of that.

  4. Tika daju,
    Are you also a Bhutanese refugee? So nice piece. I hope BNS will translate and air into Sarokar so that those refugees waiting to relocate will get the chance to know your views. Kati ramro lekhna saknu va!!

  5. Hai Mr. Adhikari,

    Better stop writing such articles. Your article is excellent but Bhotangey have changed so much that they may not want to read such a good piece. Thank you media for publishing this. I am eager to know who is the writing.

  6. Namestay Mr. Adhikari,
    it is a beautiful piece of writing. I am really concerned on how we would be able to make our children understand the contribution and sacrifice that our elders have done to make us what we are today. These elders need support in the resettled countries. Perhaps such writings would make all of us aware and think creatively. Thank you

  7. Nice article!! Beautyful writing. I love this and hope our journalists will be happy to public this types of article in the future. Give space to such article not only politics and exile org. Some of the points in the article are heart touching such as focus of the org. formed in exile should not be only political. Org. should first help resettled people in respective country. Show direction to young generation for future oppurtunities such as edcation. Assist older generation in language and various other things.All core country aspect ,bhutanese to be same as their citizen and we should follow the law of that country!!! It does not mean that we can totally stop our moment for Human Right & democracy but should be discussed in certain level and with required people rether than with…

  8. I appreciatre the author for his write up. This has given an analytical message to the resettling refugees. lot of hope, courage and inspirations to build a new living. It contributes enoumous strength especially to uneducated and less educated refugees with such a positive article.

    We should thank the resettling countries, international community, UNHCR and IOM for giving us new life when our own rulers in the country have disowned us. Our expectations should not be too much from the restettling countries. We should always bear in mind to make ourselves productive citizens of the new countries and continue with the struggle of emancipating our fellow citizens back in the country of our origin.

  9. Tikaji,

    I am sure the article like this will bring many like minded people from Bhutan and around the world together to help settle newcomers in their new home countries (wherever it may be) in a way that the new generation will feel proud of their origin/culture/language and truely impart the message of PEACE and FRIENDSHIP to the world.

  10. Thank you all for your encouraging comments and appreciation. I wrote this by way of supporting our settling families and making thier life easier in the West. There is no short-cut to this and I hope people would think about the ideas seriously. One big difference in the way people live in the West as compared with in the developing countries is that here you are responsible for what you want to do and where you want to be in the long run. It is important to sit down and think about it and families plan it together. Nobody will come and tell you why you did not do that and what is next. It is the indioviduals who determine it. There are many opportunities in the West, especially for our younger generation and I hope you will explore and take advantage of what is available. Be proactive, persistent and creative.

    All the best as you all settle…..it is a long journey….

  11. Tika Daju,
    I am so impressed and amazed to get to know the details you have included meticulously in this article. It is so well structured and informative to those to be resettled and have been resettling. Thank you so much for what you have done and hope to get to read such piece of article in future.

  12. Long Journey of Challenge, Hope & Excitement By Tikaram Adhikari (Canada)

    No more refugees (excerpt)
    The concept of being refugees is so deeply ingrained that it makes us all feel we cannot think otherwise and people would like to call us refugees. You have to learn to fight for yourself and let others know that you were former refugees and do not want to be called as such any more. You have equal rights as any other individuals in these new countries and should learn to live that way. The feeling of psychological inferiority needs to be slowly unlearnt and you should feel that you are capable individuals. The countries that have brought you would like to give you equal status as any other individuals in these countries and should learn to behave and feel that way. We also have equal responsibilities as new citizens or going to be citizens in these countries and should be uphold that responsibility with full pride and dedication.

    Changing Terms and Thinking by Bill Wischmeyer
    In my discussions throughout the New International community in Rochester and throughout the United States, the word “Refugee” puts a brand or label on people giving them the feeling of inferiority and that they are less than others in the United States that they do not measure up to our society and are somehow less than “normal” in their new country. I have been told that the term Refugee is a legal and acceptable term by people who work within the “Refugee”community and when I asked many people who have come here from other countries what they think about the fact that it is legal and acceptable their responses have been that of why do people want to make us inferior to them and the term Negro and Nigger were also one time legal and acceptable but that it doesn’t make it right to continue to label them when they are trying to fit into the American Society. All felt that they should be called New Citizens, New Americans, International Community or the country in which they were born such as Bhutanese or Iraqi etc.
    If we truly want to help our new citizens the many cultures that are coming to us from camps and war torn countries where most have been labeled all their lives and in many cases desecrated and degraded shouldn’t we as caring American people help to empower them by removing the stigma and labels that we have placed on them?

    “Once We Were Called Refugees Because We Had No Home, No Citizenship, And No Country That We Could Call Ours, Now We Have A Home And A Country We Can Call Our Own. We Are Your New Citizens……Your Neighbors And Your New Friends. Thanks To All The People In The United States For Letting Us Come Here And Opening Your Hearts, We Are Forever Grateful.”

    Next Month: Why do we as “Refugee Community Organizations”
    try to make the new cultures dependent on our services?

    Many Cultures One Community
    121 Driving Park Ave
    Rochester, NY 14613
    ph: 585-458-5927 x 102
    alt: 585-690-6800