Tuesday, August 12, 2014
Before Menuka Poudel left the refugee camp in Nepal where she and her family sheltered for almost two decades after being displaced from Bhutan, the 18-year-old spoke to me about her hopes of pursing her college education and living the American dream.
Just over a year later, on Nov. 30, 2010, she was found by her mother hanging in an apartment in Phoenix Arizona, where her family had moved a month before. They had hoped to begin a new life under a resettlement program for Bhutanese refugees who had fled cultural and religious persecution.
Ms. Poudel, who was still breathing when her mother found her, was taken to St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix where she was pronounced dead the following day, according to her family.
The young woman was one of over 30 Bhutanese refugees who have taken their lives in the U.S. since the summer of 2008 when the resettlement program began.
The problem of suicide in the community seems to be worsening: Since the start of Nov. 2013, seven Bhutanese refugees have killed themselves after resettling in the U.S.
In the most recent case, Bal Khulal, who relocated to Atlanta, Georgia, left behind a wife and two children after taking his own life, according to local police.
A report by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, a federal U.S. government agency, published in Oct. 2012, stated that in the three years to Feb. 2012, the rate of suicides among Bhutanese refugees resettled in America was 20.3 per 100,000 people.
This rate was almost double that among the U.S. general population and exceeded the global suicide rate of 16.0 per 100,000, according to figures from the World Health Organization.
However, it was similar to rates of suicide experienced by Bhutanese refugees in camps before they relocated, the study found.
“Different psychological stressors occur at each stage of the resettlement process,” the study said. Once refugees are relocated, factors such as inability to find work, increased family conflict and symptoms of anxiety, depression and psychological distress are associated with suicidal thoughts, it added.
After resettlement, many young Bhutanese adults seem to find a mismatch between their idea of the American dream and the availability of work and quality of pay in the U.S.
Those working with the Bhutanese community in America say there is a lack of support and provision to deal with the problem.
“Although suicide among the Bhutanese seems like an issue that needs attention, the community does not have the expertise to address it,” said Aaron Acharya, executive director of the Association of Bhutanese in America, Inc., a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit.
Tens of thousands of Bhutanese were displaced as a result of ethnic cleansing policy adopted by Bhutan’s government under ‘one nation-one people’ policy in the late 1980s and early 1990s when the Nepali language was banned from schools, and repression of the people of southern Bhutan by the Buddhist elite intensified.
Around 26,000 still live in refugee camps in Nepal, located near the Indian border and less than 300 miles from their home country. Over 13,000 are waiting to migrate from the camps to Western countries through the ongoing resettlement program.
As of Oct. 2013, there were around 71,000 Bhutanese refugees living in the U.S., according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Parangkush Subedi, a community volunteer in Philadelphia, in early 2013 started an awareness campaign within the Bhutanese community there and elsewhere focusing on issues of mental health and suicide.
Mr. Subedi says that to tackle the problem properly and highlight the issue among Bhutanese refugees, a U.S.-wide campaign by the organizations responsible for the resettlement program is required because the community in general is a self-contained and introverted culture.
Denise Beehag is director of refugee and employment services at the International Institute of Buffalo, one of the local resettlement agencies in Buffalo, New York where three females and one young man, all of them Bhutanese refugees, took their own lives between Aug. 2010 and Oct. 2013.
There is little discussion about the topic and the rate of suicides among this population at a national level seems staggering, Ms. Beehag said. “Immediate action is what it seems the need of the hour,” she added.
T.P. Mishra is a contributing editor at the Bhutanese refugee-run Bhutan News Service, and a refugee currently living in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Source: The Wall Street Journal
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
One of my kaakaa (uncles) and my father had been to Nepal to meet my phupu (aunt). While returning home, both of them had been exposed to a bizarre illness.
Fast-spreading daabar (rashes), small dot-like red and black lesions, covered their faces. I often saw them scratching their faces until they would get swollen. Neighbors called it maai khatiraa (sort-of chicken pox).
Our house was located in a thinly populated Beetaar village, better known to Bhutanese as Neuli (Neoli) Bhutan. Beetaar was a minuscule village only reachable by several hours walk, as it was on the hilltop of Bakuli block under the Samdrup Jongkhar district, far from the immediate reach of capital Thimphu, in southern Bhutan.
Both kaakaa and father could not fight the sickness back. It rather got exposed to my mother and two younger siblings. Not only in our village, may be there were no hospitals in the country. At least I had not heard about it. If there was one, it may have been in Thimmu (capital, Thimphu).
Local jhankri (shaman) did whatever he could to treat the sickness. Jhankri, however, was only able to provide us with some perceived healing. That’s it.
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Friday, March 8, 2013
When it comes to accomplishing amplest forms of fundamental rights, freedom or democracy, courses of struggle by the victims are advanced accordingly toning change in time and situation. We, however, strived it through same fashion even though the situation at times had sought more stronger and reliable tactics to wrestle with Thimphu peacefully.
By now, this writer is convinced that our mode of struggle—as said to be a ‘struggle for democracy’ in Bhutan, however, has not advanced. Beginning early 1990s and until the posting of this piece, we have envisaged and upheld the same mantras—no matter whether they are already achieved, yet to be attained and or are completely unachievable.
If one weighs in the changes taking place in Bhutan diligently, you can ascertain that most among the 13-point demands placed before then government by the Bhutan Peoples’ Party (BPP) on August 2, 1990, nearly similar to that of the Communists Party of Bhutan (CPB-MLM) in 2004, are already met—some partially and some fully whereas some appear attainable inevitably with the course of time citing the positive changes taking place in Bhutan. Other exiled political parties’ demands, not to an exception, are not much different. This stance, however, in no way was meant at backing-up those who had played crucial role in exiling tens of thousands of its own citizen. What it does, though, is to point out the need to consider changing the course of our struggle and work more effectively.
We must admit that some of our demands appear entirely unreasonable until people from within the country rise-up to seek them. This scrutiny in itself is abundant in pointing out the need of shifting the course of our struggle; if at all it is a must and that there exist one, for ‘the time is always right to do what is right.’ The political uproar in our neighboring Nepal & Afghanistan and the ongoing unrest in various regions of the Middle East clearly indicate that no major political transformation ensue in a country overnight. We should by now understand that Thimphu is not an exception to this.
During years’ struggle for bolstering our call for democracy and freedom in Bhutan, we placed ourselves against the backdrop of the imprecise courses—up to the point that we never realized what could be done next when one approach fails. And we kept on failing one after the other attempts. Our all-time key demand—dignified repatriation—never became feasible. Although not a single refugee has returned home, at least until the posting of this article, a good number of refugees camped in Nepal are likely to wait for the day. It is, therefore, time to let these folks know that the option of repatriation is getting thinner every other day and that it is time for them to think of securing a better future. In actuality, it appears that the beginning of the third country resettlement process also marked the end of repatriation.
We have always pointed out fingers at a handful of leaders for this big failure. Have we ever questioned if we (public) pondered our responsibilities? Answer: probably many NO(s) Vs. few YES(s)! Whether or not you accept it, the fact is we lacked, have been lacking & will continue to lack visionary leaders. We almost never upheld united voice and those who had the caliber to make it either advocated the issue singly or washed-off their hands completely.
Evidently speaking, yet not to be mentioned here in detail though, it is mirrored time & again that many of our forefront leaders slogged in without applicable & long-term strategies: thus the failure. Past is past. We should not always consider beholding retrospection. It’s time to look forward and keep moving. It’s time for healing. It’s time to build-up stronger, prosperous and united Diaspora first even before thinking of continuing to advocate our issue should the need still exists at all. Once a united voice and or a stronger Diaspora is established, we should then wisely map out course of our struggle and spend some good time to sketch out strategies. I see that we have only two options: (1) consider advocating national reconciliation and or (2) challenge Bhutan government more strongly before international arena with well-documented facts on its atrocities carried out in 1990s. The latter, however, might not yield expected results at the end of the day as its costlier and time consuming.
We should also be very clear that Thimphu is always efficacious to lure the world’s affirmative courtesy towards the perception of its concept of Gross National Happiness (GNH), which in return has candidly contributed in cloaking its atrocities carried out in early and late 1990s. We, thus, should have some prodigious strategies & plans, in future if not now, to overcome this situation.
Former Chief Editor and one of the current contributing editors of Bhutan News Service, Mishra is majoring in “International Studies” at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He blogs at www.tpmishra.com. Opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.
The article first appeared in Bhutan News Service on Oct 23 2012