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Bhutanese Refugees Resettlements in the USA

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Politics
Wordcount: 5253 words Published: 11th Sep 2017

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Writing a research paper is not an easy task. It requires an exciting topic, argument, research and puzzle questions, extensive research, literature and data on the topic. I was looking for the research topic for my political science capstone course that is related to the politics and/or policies of immigration or integration in the United States. I was born and did my high school in Nepal where I was first introduced about the Bhutanese refugees when they first flee from Bhutan after being the stateless people in their own birth place. “A stateless person is someone who does not have the legal document of citizenship of any country which would create a bond between government and individual, and provides certain political, economic, social and other rights as well as the responsible citizen of that nation”. (USA for UNHCR, n.d.). Later In 2006, the United States governments offered resettlement to Bhutanese refugees living in the camps from Nepal. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014). I will be doing research on those Bhutanese refugees who were brought in the United States as a “Refugee” based on the Refugee Resettlement Act of 1975. So, the topic of my research is “Bhutanese Refugees Resettlement in the United States”.

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My research puzzle is, while the main mission of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) is to help new populations maximize their potential in the United States by linking them to critical resources that assist them in becoming integrated members of American society. (Office of Refugee Resettlement, n.d.).However, The Office of Refugee Resettlement and Department of Health and Human Service have already reported 16 suicides cases of Bhutanese refugees from 10 different states who were resettled in the United States between March 2008 to February 2012. Most of the refugees who committed suicide were below 50 years of age and were in the United States less than a year. There are some suicide cases in refuges resettled from other countries such Burma, Burundi, Somalia etc. but the Bhutanese refugee’s cases are more frequent and higher than other (Trong, Taylor, Lankau, Sivilli, Blanton, Shetty, Lopes-Cardozo,2012; CDC). In the U.S 11 out of 100,000 people die by suicide however the rate of suicide in Bhutanese refugee is three times higher than the national average. (The Refugee Health Technical Assistance Center (RHTAC), 2011).So, the aim of my research would be to find out why do Bhutanese refugees and some other refugees are committing suicide after they arrived in the U.S? Are there any loopholes and weakness on the refugee resettlement policy that is causing the newly resettled refugees committing suicide and going under serious mental illness?

By looking at the frequent suicide cases of Bhutanese refugees and the refugees from other countries, it looks like the U.S government was only able to provide the new identity but not been able to solve their political, cultural, economic and social integration complications.

Historical Background

Life in Bhutan

Bhutanese refugees are the group of people from Nepal migrated to the South of Bhutan in the late 1800s after the Anglo- Bhutanese war of 1865. Later, the migrated newer generations started working in Agricultural field and eventually became Bhutan’s primary suppliers of food. The number of such worker increased day by day until about 1930 because of the invitation by licensed contractors. The successful generations migrated from Nepal became the Bhutan’s key source of nations revenue, who were paying taxes in cash even before the Bhutanese monarchy was established in 1907. (Hutt, 2003) The new programs of infrastructure development and land reform program granted Bhutanese citizenship based on the Bhutan’s Citizenship Act of 1958. However, the new Citizenship act of 1977 and 1985 altered citizenship law drastically. The marriage act of 1980 mandated to marry only with Bhutanese ethnicity with threaten of revoking the government benefits if violated and mandate to wear Bhutanese national costume only nationwide as well. (Rose 1994). So, the Bhutan’s Citizenship Act of 1985 revoked the Lhotsampa people’s citizenship who does not meet certain criteria such as if they didn’t have the tax receipts that can prove that they were living in Bhutan before 1958 and second if they had not been counted in the census. (Lee 1998). In the October of 1900, the people of south did a huge public demonstration asking for civil rights and cultural freedom. The Bhutanese government also acted against protester by capturing the identified participants and placed them into prison. They were kept into the prison for several months without any litigation. Many of them were released by Bhutanese government only if they are ready to sign the “voluntary migration form” (The form that has the agreement that those who signed it will leave Bhutan as soon as they are released from the jail). So, in the end of 1990, the people from Lhotsampa fled to Nepal by truck.

Life in Nepal

In 1991, more than one million Bhutanese-Nepalese from Bhutan took temporary protection in Nepal. Later, in the end of 1991 at the request of Government of Nepal (GoN), United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and World Food Program (WFP) established the total of seven refugee camps for more than 105,000 refugees in Eastern part of Nepal providing humanitarian assistance and international protection such as food, sheltered, health and education to the Bhutanese refugees. (WFP Publications 2013).

All the responsibilities to managed and look after the camp is under UNHCR and for that they assign number of subcontractors and agencies. System of committees were assign to carry out day to day activities. Like Refugee Coordination Unit for the implementation of government policy in all the seven camps, the cam management unit for registration of birth and death as well as looking after food and health program. Likewise, there were Camp secretary, Sector Head and counselling Board. Refugees were living in a very restricted and crowed conditions as for huge numbers, 106,000 of refugee there were approximately 16,673 huts using the local materials like bamboo and their lifespan was assuming to be of three years. Despite having problematic life, they had maintained a very good condition in regards of water and sanitation facilities. Incentive workers within the camp managed the water system and is centrally controlled and distributed through pipes in the estimation of 20-25 liters per person per day. Talking about the food, food basket used to be distributed in every two weeks and they used to get equal amount whether they are grown up man or a newly born. Nepal Red Cross Society were the organization for rations/food until LWF (Lutheran World Federation) took over on 2006 (Bhutanese Refugee, n.d.).

The Bhutanese refugee gave high priority for education of their children and thus started running English medium education programmed even with the small resource. The refugees were not allowed to work out of the camp due to the policy of Nepal government but they do not lack opportunities within the camp. And among those chances teaching was the most common. The teacher in the camp were paid a salary in other to motivate them but was much lower than those working outside the camp (Gharti, 2011) (Adelman, 2008). As per the information given by the end of November 2006, there were 37,403 students studying in the schools that was establish within the camp. Even though many Bhutanese refugees were educated there were also a student who dropped the schools as they had to go through multiple difficult situation. Mostly children and women in a camp had a very hard life. For instance, women had to go to jungle in search of wood for the fire to cook the food also there were operation center of Nepal Maoist near the camp and the young refugee had high chance of recruit by Moist (Gharti, 2011)(Adelman, 2008).

Resettlement in third Countries:

Several Bilateral meetings between Nepal and Bhutan to resolve the Bhutanese refugee’s situations of repatriation or resettlement didn’t come up with the specific solution. (Human Rights Watch, 2007). In fact, in June 2003, The Government of Bhutan appealed that only 24% of the populations in one camp were genuine refugees fled from Bhutan. However, it never let those 24% people also returned to Bhutan. (Banki ,2008) On the other hand, from February 1996 Nepal itself went under civil war due to The Communist Party of Nepal “Maoist” who were aiming to overthrow the Nepalese Monarchy and establish People Republic. The civil war was ended on November 21,2006. Due to the everyday strikes and unsecured situations Government of Nepal was not able to provide full attention regarding the settlement of Bhutanese refugees problems. More than 13,000 people (including both civilian and armed forces) were killed and 1300 people were misplaced during the conflict. (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 2012). The repatriation was also impossible because the properties and lands that the Bhutanese refugees were utilizing were on the possession of the other local Bhutanese people. (Adelman, 2008). Since the resettlement and repatriation was impossible in Nepal the resettlement to the third countries was realized as the ultimate solution for the Bhutanese refugees. (COR Center Refugee Backgrounder No. 4, 2007).

Finally, in 2007 the Government of Nepal agreed the alternative of the third-country resettlement. The United States government offered to resettle more than 80,000 Bhutanese refugees in the United States based on the refugee and resettlement act of 1975. So, the first group of Bhutanese arrived in the United States was on March 25, 2008 and resettled in different States and cities such as Texas, Arizona, New York; Chicago, Illinois; Syracuse, St. Louis, Missouri, Colorado, Seattle etc. (Bhutanese American organization-PA)

Research procedures

As a research procedure, the primary data was collected through a random interview. I conducted face to face interview with four random Bhutanese refugees of age above 40 who are currently residing in the Queens, New York. The reason why I chose Queens, New York was because it was easier to find the personnel’s and conduct the interview since many of the resettled Bhutanese refuges are staying in this region. Even though they came from Nepal and Speak Nepali language I have never met or spoke to those refugees before I took the interview. It was completely random selection. The primary objectives of conducting interview with the Bhutanese refugees (age above 45) is to collect and analyze the pre-and post- migration experiences information from Bhutan to Nepal to the United States. I interviewed with the four randomly selected adult Bhutanese refugees (age above 45) living in the Queens Region. I found Sam (name changed) in the Indian local grocery store called “Patel Brothers”, met Sima (name changed) “Bhutan Corner” (Cafe), met Dan (name changed) in “Laliguras restaurant” and met Albert (name changed) in Elmhurst nearby Hindu Temple. The questions that I prepared for the interviews were related to the pre- and post- migration experiences, qualitative characteristics such as education, languages, job, health status, future aspirations, neighborhood interactions etc. (see Appendix). I collected the interview data by writing down in my notebook. The assumption is that the information collected from the random Bhutanese refugees interview would be more effective to gather deeper information to find out the answers connected with the puzzle and research questions.

Literature and data

The Secondary literature and data was collected by browsing the several existing scholarships such as books, peer-reviewed journal, articles, newspapers articles, government sites and respective non-profit organization web pages and blogs. The primary reason to look at the literature and statistical data is to provide intellectual information for my research questions and to provide complement to my research puzzle and thesis statement.

Findings and Reviews

The number of Bhutanese refuges and their group are together multiplying in such a way that thy have their own separate categories in the U.S. Census count. (NY daily news, 2011). These people are mostly residing in Sunnyside, Maspeth, Elmhurst, Woodside and Jackson Heights. (Asian American Federation).

Based on the conversation with Sam inside the one corner of the Patel Brothers store, Sam is currently living in Woodside, New York since 2011 with his families. He is 53 years old and was one of Bhutanese who fled from Lhotsampa, Bhutan to Nepal in the summer of 1993 with his wife and two kids. He said living in the refugee camp of Nepal was just a partial relief with limited freedom. He and his families were very happy for getting migration to the United States. Overall, he looked happy for coming in the United States the only complain he had was not getting the expected job. He and his wife both were the teachers in Nepal but they could not get the same type of job in the United States even after several attempts. He does not have stable job and his wife works as a housekeeper at doctor’s home. I didn’t ask him question number 13. He has hope from his kids and would have a better life in the future.

Based on the interview with Sima. She is living with her husband in Woodside as well. She said she was 25 years old when her family fled from Bhutan to Nepal in 1993. She was raped by Bhutanese police while she was in prison. She was a beautician in Nepal but here she is also doing housekeeping job and part time salon helper. She said her she was not able to pass the beautician license test because of weak English. She added that though she makes enough money to spend but not fully satisfy with her profession however, she said she does not have any regrets feelings after coming to the U.S. She also does not have any social interaction with other communities besides Nepalese, Bhutanese and some Indians because of the cultural and language variations. The question regarding the suicidal ideation of the Bhutanese refugee’s she said it varies by the person’s mentality. Some people are doing good and some people are going under mental illness however she doesn’t want to blame everything on U.S. Government. She said some people were already under depression while they were in Nepal’s refugee camp. She shared her dream of getting license and having job in own field to be the owner of small beauty salon by herself.

I met Dan when I was drinking coffee in Nepalese restaurant (Laliguras). He said he is around 45 now and staying with his wife and one kid. He said he was a teenager when his families escaped from Bhutan to Nepal. Dan is living in Jackson heights 82nd street. Since he was looking open minded and friendly I was little more comfortable asking questions to him. Hence, I was focusing more on the research puzzle and research question. He told me some interesting things, he said after the arrival in the United States they all get supports such as food stamps, Medicare, cash assistance, and training. However, the cash assistance was never enough to cover all the expenses. He also said, “all of us need to be self-standing within three to eight months and ready to repay the travel loan (where a family with four people owes $5300 for an only one-way ticket). So, after eight months all the refugees get the pressure of paying back the loan. He again said, “I was lucky to get the job in restaurant helper and was able to pay back the loan.” He still remembers his close friend hung himself in his bedroom ceiling fan due to the financial burden. He ended up saying that he is now a chef in the restaurant and doesn’t have any future high expectation as of now and has very limited interaction with the other community’s people.

Later again, I stepped out towards Elmhurst. I meet Albert nearby Hindu Temple. He is around 50 and staying with his wife and 3 daughters. He was working as car mechanic outside camp in Nepal and his expectation was of getting similar job in USA but he was not able to get the same type of job in the United States. He said that he felt like none of the owner or manager trusted him even to give a chance of showing his capabilities. He said now I have three daughters working but he had a very nightmare life in the past after the first arrival in the United States. He said “I thought couple of times of doing suicide as well but friends gave me loan to pay off government loan and found a job in warehouse as helper”. He again said, “language is the most important thing, if you don’t know how to speak English in the United States you are vulnerable to discrimination and limited opportunity”.

From the face to face to interview and sensitive conversations that I conducted with four random Bhutanese refugee’s living in Queens county New York, it suggests that to begin a new life in the world’s most developed nation like the United States must be a proudful and victorious for the refugees like Bhutanese, who were fleeing from their own country due to the fear of tortures and camp. However, starting over life in totally new environment and with zero balance and knowledge is not an easy. Refugees like Bhutanese who have migrated from the underdeveloped countries like Bhutan and Nepal must deal with numbers post migration problems such as social and cultural integration, language, income, financial burden, mental stress etc. They already have lots of memories from the past persecutions and burden of camp life where as life would be very difficult and unpredictable especially in different and completely new culture, norms, language and communities. Although all of them were very excited while moving to the US because of getting new life and identity in the world’s most developed and powerful country but after sometime almost all of them have complains having problems in staring with due to various obstacles like not getting an expected job, discriminations and less opportunity due to language problem, burden of paying back the government loan after six months where they were not fully established in the new world the United States.

More than 60% of the Bhutanese refugees follow Hindu religion and rest of others ae Buddhist, Kirat and Christian. (International Organization for Migration (IOM), 2008). The four main sub castes under Hindu Bhutanese refugees are Brahmins (Priests), Cheetris (warriors), Vaishya’s (farmers, merchants) and Sudras (servant, Laborers). Most of the Hinduism’s are radical where the religion based discrimination is common in Hindu community. So-called higher caste Brahmins do not even allow to enter so called loser caste Hindu people in their kitchen and will not eat food prepared by the lower caste people. (Chapman & Colorado.gov, n.d.) Many Hindu Bhutanese refugees are vegetarians some of them does not even eat or touch beef or pork which are common foods in the United States. As per the research conducted at Arizona State University regarding the connection between religious coping and acculturation stress among newly-resettled Hindu Bhutanese refugees in the United States. They use their analyzed data to study the psychological impact of integration on the newly resettled Hindu Bhutanese refugees in the US. Based on the references and collected data, researchers found that Hindu Bhutanese refugees have a very hard time integrating their Hindus Bhutanese culture and beliefs with American cultural values. The authors suggest that heartfelt Hindu Bhutanese may need additional support to integrate in the newly resettled community. causing them isolating and mentally hopeless. (Benson, Sun, Hodge, & Androff, 2012)

I collected mixed outcome from the face to face interview as some interviewees talked about the loophole of the U.S. Government policy where other said the pre-existing mental health situation of the refuges that developed even worse quite some time later after they arrived in the United States. The cross-sectional survey conducted on the randomly selected 579 Bhutanese refugees of 18 years or older who resettled from 2008-2011, in seven cities of the United States nationwide: Atlanta, Buffalo, Syracuse, Phoenix, Tucson, Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston etc. by the CDC officer considering to the demographics, mental health symptoms, and associated risk factors related to the depression symptoms among newly resettled Bhutanese refugees in the US suggests that the prevalence of depression symptoms among resettled Bhutanese refugees in the US (21%) was higher than the (5%) reported in a meta-analysis of large studies of refugees resettled to western countries. (Trong, Taylor, Lankau, Shetty, & Sivilli, 2015 18(4)). Most of the women and older generation refugees have no education at all. So, those we didn’t have any education opportunities in Bhutan and didn’t became educated in Camp obviously will have the difficult time to adjust in the country where life, culture, language, food and community are different and new. (Marschilok, 2013). The cross-sectional survey and report suggests that cultural isolation and acculturation are resulting in difficulty in integration and adaption into the new country with new peoples. The refuges who had less education were already worried about the resettlement in the third countries making this population more vulnerable to depression since pre-migration.

In addition, the researchers at US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Boston Children’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts Department of Public Health and Department of Infectious Diseases performed Bivariate logistic regressions to recognize associated factors with mental illness and suicidal ideation. As a research method, random Bhutanese refugees are interviewed and surveyed by trained experts in the participant’s community. From the research, they find the mental health conditions occurrence percentage are depression (21%), symptoms of anxiety (19%), post-traumatic stress disorder (4.5%), and suicidal ideation (3%). She also finds the significant causes for suicidal ideation such as financial responsibility, receiving low social support and having symptoms of anxiety and depression. (Trong, Taylor, Lankau, Shetty, & Sivilli, 2015 18(4)).

The writer, contributing editor at the Bhutanese refugee-run Bhutan News Service currently living in Charlotte, North Carolina writes that just few weeks earlier before hanging in an apartment in Phoenix Arizona, Menuka Poudel spoke to him about her hope and dream of pursuing higher education and long living in America. The writer himself is one of the refugee from Bhutan. He writes poor Poudel was one of the 30 Bhutanese refugees who has already done suicide in the U.S. since the summer of 2008 after the resettlement program began. He adds the statistical data from CDC office that from 2008 to 2012, the ratio of Bhutanese refugees suicide case in America was 20.3 out of 100,000 people. In fact, this ratio is near to double compare to the U.S. general population global suicide rate of 16.0 out of 100,000, (WHO). He also writes after resettlement, many young Bhutanese adults who came to USA seem to have a misalliance between their hope and American dream with the availability of work and quality of pay and life resulting to the mental illness and suicide.


This research has number of limitations. First, conducting a face to face interview is not an easy task especially when we are doing research about suicide, life and living standards. The collection of data and outcomes might not be 100 percent accurate by conducting a face to face interview with individuals regarding such personal and sensitive issues. Most of the times people might give false statement due to the fear of privacy and hesitations. Second, the primary data I have collected is only from the one region and with a very few contributors, so my collection of primary of data can be useful for the brief analysis but not to draw the conclusion about the Bhutanese refugees who are residing across the United States.




  1. What is your name?
  2. Can you tell me about yourself?
  3. When did you leave Bhutan and Nepal?
  4. Are you married and Do you have children?)
  5. Can you tell me about the Journey to the United States?
  6. Before you come to the United States, where did you live?
  7. Tell me about your favorite childhood memory.
  8. What did you like about living in the refugee camp and What did you dislike?
  9. Do you remember about that moment when you came to know that you are migrating to the United States permanently?
  10. Did you find any surprising differences between your expectation and real life of America?
  11. How were you feeling when you first stepped out of America’s Airport? and How were you feeling after six months and How are you feeling now?
  12. What are the most challenging things you ever faced in the United States?
  13. Why are some people in your community are committing suicide asked only to Dan?
  14. What are your future aspirations?


“What Is a Refugee – USA for UNHCR?” USA for UNHCR. http://www.unrefugees.org/what-is-a-refugee/ (September 18, 2016).





Hutt, Michael. 2003. Unbecoming Citizens: Culture, Nationhood and the Flight of Refugees from Bhutan. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Rose, Leo E. 1977. The Politics of Bhutan. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 55

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Tang Lay Lee. (1998). Refugees from Bhutan: Nationality, statelessness and the right to return. International Journal of Refugee Law, 10(1 2), 118-155.

Muni, S.D. 1991. Bhutan in the throes of ethnic conflict. India International Centre Quarterly (Spring): 145-54.


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Benson, G. O., F. Sun, D. R. Hodge, and D. K. Androff. 2011. “Religious Coping and Acculturation Stress among Hindu Bhutanese: A Study of Newly-Resettled Refugees in the United States.” International Social Work 55(4): 538-53.

Vonnahme, Laura A. et al. 2014. “Factors Associated with Symptoms of Depression Among Bhutanese Refugees in the United States.” Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health J Immigrant Minority Health 17(6): 1705-14.

Ao Trong, Shetty Sharmila, Sivilli Teresa, Blanton, Ellis Heidi, Geltman Paul, Cochran Jennifer, Taylor Eboni, Lankau Emily, and Cardozo Barbara. 2015. “Suicidal Ideation and Mental Health of Bhutanese Refugees in the United States.” Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health J Immigrant Minority Health 18(4): 828-35.

Mishra, T.P. 2014. “American Dream Becomes Nightmare for Bhutanese Refugees.” WSJ. http://blogs.wsj.com/indiarealtime/2014/01/07/american-dream-becomes-nightmare-for-bhutanese-refugees/.

Maxym, maya. 2010. “Nepali-Speaking Bhutanese (Lhotsampa) Cultural Profile.” – EthnoMed. https://ethnomed.org/culture/nepali-speaking-bhutanese-lhotsampa/nepali-speaking-bhutanese-lhotsampa-cultural-profile#section-3 (September 18, 2016).

Ranard, Donald A. 2207. “Bhutanese Refugees in Nepal.” Hartford Public Library. https://www.hplct.org/assets/uploads/files/backgrounder_bhutanese.pdf (September 18, 2016).

“Bhutanese Americans Make History Advocating on Capitol Hill.” 2014. Hindu American Foundation (HAF). http://www.hafsite.org/whats-new/bhutanese-americans-make-history-advocating-capitol-hill (September 18, 2016).

“Refugee Health TA.” Refugee Health TA. http://refugeehealthta.org/physical-mental-health/mental-health/suicide/ (September 18, 2016).

“Suicide and Suicidal Ideation Among Bhutanese Refugees – United States, 2009-2012.” 2013. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6226a2.htm (September 18, 2016).

Cochran, Jennifer. 2013. “Suicide and Suicidal Ideation Among Bhutanese Refugees – United States, 2009-2012.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6226a2.htm (September 18, 2016).

Kulman, Betsy, and Kevin Tsukii. 2014. “New to America, Bhutanese Refugees Face Suicide Crisis.” Aljazeera America. http://america.aljazeera.com/watch/shows/america-tonight/articles/2014/6/19/bhutanese-refugeessuicide.html (September 18, 2016).

Ellis, Heidi B. 2015. “Understanding Bhutanese Refugee Suicide through the Interpersonal-Psychological Theory of Suicidal Behavior.” APA PsycNET. http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/ort/85/1/43/ (September 18, 2016).


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