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Bhutanese refugees find a new home in Saskatoon

Bhutanese refugees find a new home in Saskatoon


Khim Adhikari in a SIAST English class at Mount Royal Collegiate in Saskatoon January 29, 2013.
Photograph by: Richard Marjan , The StarPhoenix
Some 80 refugees from a minority community in the Himalayan nation of Bhutan have resettled in Saskatoon since 2009 and have quickly settled into life in Canada.

These refugees are from the Lhotshampa ethnic group, which has faced severe repression by the government of Bhutan in recent decades.

Unlike the majority of Bhutanese who are Buddhist, the Lhotshampa practice the Hindu religion, having migrated to Bhutan from neighbouring Nepal between 1885 and the 1960s.

Khim Adhikari, 25, fled Bhutan with his family when he was four years old. He grew up and attended school at a United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) refugee camp in neighbouring Nepal.

Located in the foothills of the Himalayas between China and India, Bhutan has a population of 742,000.

“It’s a really, really small country,” Adhikari said.

In 1988, the government of Bhutan adopted a so-called “One Country, One People” policy, banning the wearing of traditional ethnic clothes and the speaking of minority languages. The Lhotshampa were also branded illegal immigrants, despite their having lived in Bhutan for generations.

Pressure to leave the country soon mounted coming in the form of fines, jail terms, violence and rape.

“The One Country, One People law was very hard on us,” Adhikari said.

The expulsion of the Lhot-shampa created a refugee crisis, with about 105,000 people fleeing to seven camps in Nepal.

In 2006, western nations came together to find a long-term solution for resettlement. The U.S. agreed to resettle 60,000, while Canada agreed to accept 5,500 over five years. So far, some 75,000 have been resettled around the world.

Before being sent away for resettlement, the refugees were given classes by the UNHCR about their new countries so they could learn what to expect in terms of language, culture and climate.

Bhutanese refugees have settled in 21 cities across Canada, with the largest groups living in Quebec City, Ottawa, Halifax, Winnipeg, Regina and Lethbridge.

Adhikari said the resettlement process has seen members of his family scattered across Canada and the United States, although his parents and siblings are in Saskatoon.

Like many young Lhot-shampa refugees, Adhikari is attending SIAST to upgrade his English and other skills.

The Bhutanese newcomers were introduced to the community at large at a dinner last weekend hosted by the Open Door Society at the Meadow Green House for All Nations. On Saturday, Saska-tonians were introduced to music, dancing and food from Bhutan, including curries, rice and fried roti resembling doughnuts.

Adhikari’s sister Yamuna, 27, came to Canada in 2010 and is thankful to be building a new life in Saskatoon with her husband and child.

“It’s a good life here,” she said. “I am in employment training now and I have made many friends.”

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