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Bhutanese Refugee Story

In 1624 AD the government of Bhutan first brought Nepalese origin people to settle in the southern part of the country so that they could establish farmlands and feed the rest of the country. Nepalese families continued this migration with dreams of a prosperous future for their hard work. In 1958 Bhutan passed a Citizenship Act which provided all Southern Bhutanese with citizenship in the hopes of implementing an ideology of cultural integration. Despite instilling a sense of patriotism, Southern Bhutanese still valued their own identity, culture, and religion.

In 1985 another Citizenship Act was passed which prohibited naturalization citizenship and stated that citizenship could be revoked if anyone was disloyal to the king, country or people in power. In 1988, the government conducted census in Southern Bhutan so that citizens who couldn't produce evidence of citizenship before 1958 were categorized as illegal immigrants. Many people of Nepalese origin were forced to leave the country. A year later the government brought a policy of "One Nation, One People" which forced the Nepalese-speaking people to dress, speak, and follow the traditions of the ruling ethnic group. Nepali language was removed from school curriculum and Dzongkha, the national language, was made compulsory. When the Southern Bhutaneses' sole representative, Tek Nath Rizal petitioned this unfair act, he was arrested causing Southern Bhutanese to launch demonstrations. The government, in return, began arresting demonstrators, looting Nepalese villages, raping and torturing Southern Bhutanese without trial, and confiscating citizenship cards. Government employees of Nepalese origin were dismissed and chaos erupted in the villages of Southern Bhutan.

As a result people began to flee towards the Indian border in search of safety, while government authorities made people sign so-called voluntary migration forms. Those who made it to the border were then loaded onto trucks and taken to Nepal. The government of Nepal appealed to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to set up camps, so it happened that these people spent nearly two decades in asylum. By 1991, around 105,000 individuals, about one-sixth of the Bhutanese population, had become refugees. It was not until 2006 that the USA and other countries offered to resettle the refugees.

In March 2008, Bhutanese refugees began resettling in Utah. Far from home, members of our community struggled to adapt in this new world with entirely different culture, traditions, and language. To meet the growing needs of the community we met with the Refugee Services Office and formed our own community organization - The Bhutanese Community in Utah (BCU). By August 2009, BCU was officially registered in Utah and received a permit as a charitable organization. Soon after we received a grant to provide supplemental case management, interpretation, transportation, collected and distributed donations, and other services to the needy families of the community. During this project period we were approved for 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status and were able to build partnerships with different service providers, government entities, other community organizations, schools, and colleges. Our work with the grant was recognized by the state refugee office and was awarded the certificate of the best refugee community in Utah.