Wednesday, May 4, 2016
The letter states the concern over human rights issue of the Lhotshampa people inside Bhutan and also the refugees in Nepal who want to return Bhutan. Calling for the PM’s attention on this matter, Senator Shaheen writes, “…to ask for your attention to a matter of importance to me and my constituents in the state of New Hampshire- that is the status of Bhutanese Lhotshampa refugees in the countries surrounding Bhutan, mainly Nepal, as well as the status of Lhotshampa who remain in Bhutan but are not afforded the same rights and privileges as your other citizens.”
In regard to the status of refugees in camps, Senator Shaheen writes, “I understand that our State Department is working with your government, the Nepalese government and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to find durable solution for these individuals that includes a mix of repatriation and local integration.”
According to Suraj Budathoki, the executive director of International Campaign for Human Rights in Bhutan, a great deal of advocacy and correspondence is involved in sending this letter to Bhutan through a senator serving in the foreign relations committee has been working with multiple senators at state level and in the White House to raise the cause of human rights issue in Bhutan.On July 30, 1993 Congressional Human Rights Caucus of US House of Representatives had also written a letter to the fourth king Jigme Singye Wangchuck stating,’…we ask that your government do everything in its power to end any practice of pressuring ethnic Nepalese to leave their homes in Bhutan, and we ask that you work with the government of Nepal to facilitate to return to Bhutan who have been forced to flee..” It is believed that the letter played vital role and the eviction process was brought to an end. Otherwise, the home ministry’s order to southern administration was all destined to empty the districts inhabited by Lhotshampa.
Suraj is hoping to get a response from Bhutan, but he also hopes to resolve some pertinent human rights issues remaining even after resettlement is at the terminal point. The fight is for justice that has been denied for generations, per Suraj.
Suraj says, “Our attempt is also to open up a diplomatic relationship between Bhutan and the US.”
The letter to Bhutan’s PM does not mention anything about former visits by US officials including senator John McCain and undersecretary Maria Otero.
The letter also speaks on the travel of Bhutanese American to their ancestral land in Bhutan, asking the government to allow visa to the naturalized Bhutanese so that they can unite with their families left behind. BNS has learned that couple cases of visa application has been denied and the initial charges of application not returned.
Meanwhile Hillary Clinton’s letter to Suraj Budathoki mentions about continuing her unfinished task of defending human rights. It mentions- Issues specific to Bhutanese refugees were at the top of our bilateral agenda with Bhutan during my tenure as Secretary of State.
Suraj wrote to BNS, “Many of us who arrived here as refugees have now become citizens of this great country. We enjoy rights that we did not have in Bhutan. We admire efforts made by the US to encourage universal human rights around the world. While we are no longer in our country of origin, we deeply care about the happiness and rights of everyone in Bhutan and among those who were exiled. Senator Shaheen’s letter to Bhutan’s Prime Minister, we hope, is a step toward resolving the many issues that face us.”
Monday, June 15, 2015
Friday, June 5, 2015
June 3, 2015
For Immediate Release:
Bhutanese residents of New Hampshire would like to thank the United States of America and the
Granite State for accepting us, giving us a home, and providing us the hope to live with dignity
and freedom. There are no words to fully express our gratitude and appreciation.
Today is a historic day for us. By passing SCR 1 today, the NH General Court gave highest
honor and recognition to the contribution of the newly resettled Bhutanese communities in New
Hampshire and in the whole of the United States. The resolution has requested the Government
of the United States to work diligently on resolving the Bhutanese refugee crisis, reaching an
agreement to allow the option of repatriation, and promoting human rights and democracy in
This historical accomplishment would not have possible without the support and solidarity of
NH Senators and Representatives. Therefore, we would like to thank Senator Dan Feltes, the
primary sponsor, and all other sponsors and testifiers of this resolution. Throughout this process,
we also received relentless support from Bhutanese and non-Bhutanese inside and outside
We have come through a long typical journey and today this resolution has added a stronger
foundation to the continuation of our long journey to justice, which is to accomplish freedom and
justice to our fellow Bhutanese who have been suffering since early 1990. As the human rights
situation in Bhutan remain as worrying as in 1990s, and as thousands of Bhutanese refugees still
waiting in refugee camps in Nepal for their rightful repatriation to their homeland, and some
waiting for resettlement, today’s resolution has given them all a highest hope and aspiration that
there is always light at the end of the tunnel.
This is only the beginning of our journey. We will not stop, we will never quit, until justice
prevails. The story of our plight cannot be hidden or dismissed. We are here. We have a voice.
And now, we are no longer alone. The General Court of New Hampshire has proved what is
special about America -- that in a democracy everyone has a voice. Thank you all.
Press Contacts Available for Questions:
Suraj Budathoki, a former refugee from Bhutan, is the founder and Executive Director of
International Campaign for Human Rights in Bhutan. As an organization, they campaign to raise
awareness on the human rights in Bhutan and Bhutanese refugee issue in Nepal and seek for
peaceful, amicable, and sustainable resolution of these problems.
Tika Acharya, a former refugee from Bhutan, is the Executive Director of Bhutanese Community
of New Hampshire. The Bhutanese Community of New Hampshire is a non-profit, community
based organization serving the Bhutanese community of New Hampshire, particularly new
arrivals from refugee camps in Nepal.
Thursday, May 28, 2015
This resolution recognizes the contribution of Bhutanese refugees to New Hampshire, and requesting the United States government work diligently on resolving the Bhutanese refugee crisis, an agreement to allow the option of repatriation, and promote human rights and democracy in Bhutan.
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STATE OF NEW HAMPSHIRE
In the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand Fifteen
A resolution recognizes the contribution of Bhutanese refugees to New Hampshire, and requesting the United States government work diligently on resolving the Bhutanese refugee crisis, an agreement to allow the option of repatriation, and promote human rights and democracy in Bhutan.
Whereas, in the early 1990s, the government of Bhutan conducted a campaign of ethnic cleansing in southern Bhutan, targeting the minority population of Lhotshampas, or ethnic Nepalis; and
Whereas, ethnic Nepalis still remaining in Bhutan suffer political and religious persecution; and
Whereas, as a result of the Bhutan’s campaign of ethnic cleansing in the early 1990s, a refugee crisis emerged in neighboring India and Nepal, with refugee camps still existing in Nepal; and
Whereas, Bhutanese refugees do not have an option of repatriation to Bhutan, including those with family still living in Bhutan; and
Whereas, since 2008, more than 90,000 Bhutanese refugees have resettled in multiple countries, with over 80,000 in the United States; and
Whereas, since 2008, more than 2,000 Bhutanese refugees have resettled in New Hampshire; and
Whereas, Bhutanese refugees, in communities across New Hampshire, have contributed their industry and culture, making New Hampshire stronger.
Resolved by the Senate, the House of Representatives concurring:
The New Hampshire General Court recognizes that the industry and culture of Bhutanese refugees have made New Hampshire stronger, and hereby respectfully requests that the United States government work diligently with the governments of Bhutan, Nepal, India, and other interested parties, to resolve the refugee crisis, reach an agreement to allow the option of repatriation, and promote human rights and democracy in Bhutan.
That copies of this resolution, signed by the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate, be forwarded to the Secretary for the United States Department of State.
Monday, May 11, 2015
Wednesday, April 22, 2015
My Turn: U.S. has chance to help people of Bhutan
By SURAJ K. BUDATHOKI
For the Monitor
Friday, September 26, 2014
(Published in print: Saturday, September 27, 2014)
(Published in print: Saturday, September 27, 2014)
With the historic summit between India and the United States under way, I, as an exiled new American from Bhutan, would like to urge the Obama Administration to discuss with India the possible resolution of the protracted humanitarian crisis in Bhutan, India’s neighbor.
Since the early 1980s, peace has been taken from the Lhotshampas, people living in the southern part of Bhutan who generally speak Nepali and ascribe to a different religion than the majority Bhutanese. The tragedy began by the forcible and unilateral revocation of citizenship from an innocent ethnic Nepali population (Lhotshampa) in Bhutan after changing the Citizenship Act that had adorned the Lhotshampa population there with citizenship rights.
Policy changes at that time required people to follow only the majority Buddhism culture, including wearing their clothing and speaking their language, and renounce their minority religion, Hindu, and their culture. What followed was imprisonment, torture and in some cases rape, as well as the confiscation of land, homes and property, and the eventual forced eviction of more than 100,000 innocent citizens who became stateless and homeless. And still, according to Human Rights Watch, more than 80,000 Lhotshampa and other ethnic communities are living in Bhutan without their basic human rights, including the free exercise of religion and citizenship rights, and are under constant threat of imprisonment, torture and eviction.
More than five years ago, the world community, recognizing the plight of the Bhutanese refugees, but unable to convince the Bhutanese government to grant full citizenship and stop religious and ethnic repression, began the process of resettlement of more than 90,000 refugees.
The United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Denmark, Netherlands, Norway, Australia and New Zealand welcomed these repressed families to their shores and into their communities.
This includes the wonderful people and communities of Concord, Laconia and Manchester right here in New Hampshire.
New Hampshire is a place where freedom, including the freedom of religion, reigns and is embraced. But those of us who are so lucky to live here still care very deeply about the plight of those who remain in Bhutan and in refugee camps in Nepal.
For the restoration of peace and human rights, it is time to initiate reconciliation between the government of Bhutan and the people it rejected.
The collaboration and effort of the largest and oldest democratic countries on earth – the United States and India – is critical to end this protracted humanitarian crisis. Both the United States and India play vital leadership roles toward advancing freedom and human rights, as well as fighting against terrorism and dictatorship in order to ensure global peace, prosperity and democracy.
The United States and India should to take up the prolonged Bhutanese refugee issue in their discussions so that justice might finally be advanced in India’s neighbor of Bhutan.
I am also hopeful that United States Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte might also voice their support for productive conversations between India and the United States on this issue. Now is the time to make forward progress for those who were not so fortunate to make it to wonderful places like New Hampshire.
(Suraj K. Budathoki, a former refugee from Bhutan who is now a U.S. citizen living in Manchester, is executive director of An International Campaign for Human Rights in Bhutan.)
My Turn: The road from Bhutan
By TREVOR HART
For the Monitor
Sunday, January 4, 2015
(Published in print: Sunday, January 4, 2015)
(Published in print: Sunday, January 4, 2015)
Starting over is often frightening and seldom easy. There are always those items too precious to easily part with, no matter the circumstances around them. We can find ourselves lost and confused amid the conflicts and changes forced upon us. This becomes all the more painfully true in those times when our loyalties and our sense of identity are challenged. Those times carry a special torment and often leave the deepest scars in our hearts.
For Suraj Budathoki of Manchester, it is time to start over.
On the 18th of April, he became a citizen of the United States of America. It was a hard-fought milestone, bringing to an end 24 years of fear, anguish and rejection. When he speaks of his new home, he is fond of saying that U.S.A. means “U start again.”
Suraj is one of several thousand refugees of Bhutan who have come to America with the hopes of starting over. His infectious enthusiasm is evident in his enormous smile. In looking at him, you may find it hard to believe the hardships he and his family have had to endure. Suraj looks to the future and sees all the possibilities that his new home and country hold for him, his family and his people. Yet, there are still those memories that beckon him to look behind. They are just too precious to leave, too sacred to be forgotten. The loss of his ancestral home, the livestock his family tended and all the potential that was taken from him for more than 20 years still twist in his soul. He wants the world to know the truth. He wants justice.
At the time the British Empire left India, Bhutan came to a point of starting over. On Aug. 8, 1949, Bhutan signed the Treaty of Peace and Friendship with India. While India did have some control regarding Bhutan’s relations with foreign countries, this was the first time Bhutan was recognized as an independent nation. It must have been an exciting time for the Bhutanese people. Their country was now free and able to build its own identity.
The momentum was set, and Bhutan raced forward to be a modern nation. In 1952, with the death of the king, Bhutan began to become a democracy and formed the national assembly. Six years later, the longstanding tradition of slavery was abolished. There were growing pains along the way. Starting over is hard, but progress would not be stopped. By 1971, Bhutan joined the United Nations and entered the world stage.
Nestled between China and India, Bhutan boasts both the majestic peaks of the Himalayas and lush grassy fields. In many ways, it is a paradise on Earth. In fact, in 2006 Business Week rated Bhutan the happiest nation in all Asia, eighth happiest in the world. Much of this is owed to the Gross Happiness Doctrine enacted by the Bhutanese government. This grand and noble gesture, that every citizen should be happy, separates Bhutan from other nations. It is inspiring idea in so many ways and suggests brave and idealistic rulers. However, there is a dark shadow cast over this happiness. It seems that for some to be happy, others must be placed in misery.
The admirable goal of universal happiness flies in direct contrast to Bhutan’s policies regarding its Nepali-descended minority, known as Lhotshampas. Those policies have marginalized, subjugated and persecuted nearly 20 percent of the country’s population. After a long history of legal harassment, much of the ethnic Nepalese in Bhutan have been chased out the country and forced to live in refugee camps.
After the consolidation of Bhutan in the early 17th century, the then-Civil Administrator Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal went to Nepal and brought a few families as construction workers. The Bhutan House (present day embassy) in Kalimpong, India, resettled huge numbers of Nepalese in the southern region of Bhutan as a buffer to British colonial power in India. Also, in the latter part of the 19th century and early parts of the 20th, Nepali immigrants entered Bhutan as workers. Soon they were feared for being such a large minority and were forbidden to settle in the northern portion of the country.
In response, they made Southern Bhutan their home. During 1958, the Citizenship Act officially gave citizenship to those who could prove they had been in the country for at least 10 years. It was an opportunity for so many looking for a new life.
However, those old fears against them came back in the form of policies limiting their citizenship. In an effort to enforce a national culture (mainly those of Northern Bhutan) the government began to marginalize the southern portion of their country. The Bhutanese Citizenship Act of 1985 (setting the policy of “one nation, one people”) set codes of conduct regarding public dress, behavior and even an attempt to limit the languages spoken in schools. It was clear that the ruling powers were targeting the Nepali minority. No more so was this evident than in the manner of redefining who was and wasn’t a citizen of the nation. Those now deemed to no longer be citizens were forced to relinquish their property to the government. Speaking against such policy was grounds for losing citizenship. The Lhotshampas were effectively denied democracy.
In 1988, Bhutan had its first census. Many feared that this was merely an exercise in determining who was of Nepali descent. The Lhotshampas were outraged and protested. Those who spoke against the king and his policies were soon arrested or forced to flee. Suraj’s family was among those who ran in fear of being imprisoned.
It was at night that his family left. They packed what they could, poured all of the feed for their livestock in the center of the yard, opened all the pens and took flight. He relates how it all seemed so exciting to his 10-year-old self. He got to ride in a truck and was innocently excited for it.
There being no place for them in Bhutan, the refugees set up seven camps in the uninhabited portions of Nepal. The conditions were miserable. The houses were little more than bamboo huts with dirt floors and thatched roofs. The Budathokis settled in Timai, the first of such camps. It was the harshest of new starts. They lost everything, with little hope of anything ever getting better.
It can be hard to envision what life was like in such a place. Most property was shared by necessity. Work was hard to come by, and money was scarce. The people have to make do with what little they brought with them or could manage to scrounge together. Sickness ran rampant, as did malnutrition. There was no electricity, no plumbing and little protection from the elements. Suraj tells of his childhood with such a pleasant nature that it almost belies the bleakness of his story. How he had to get up early every morning to secure a good place in line for water. How he spent his days breaking rocks down by the river to earn money for his family. Every story peppered with misery told by a man now thrilled at the vastly improved conditions of his new life.
In 2008, the United States government agreed to resettle 60,000 of the refugees in America. Suraj is among these. It is a constant struggle to start over in such a different culture. It is a struggle he gladly accepts with all the promise his new life holds. Now a husband and father, he has taken to activism on the part of the several thousand still living in the refugee camps back in Nepal as well as helping those like him here. It is a new life, a good life. It is more than he ever thought he would get in the more than 20 years he was forced to live in exile.
Underneath the friendly and genuine demeanor is the pain and anger of stolen decades he can never get back. That fires him to seek attention for his people and their cause. It makes him appreciate and love his new home all the more. He delights in simple things such as having a job and all the possibilities the future now holds for his daughter. He happily complains about having to pay rent for the first time in his life.
However, the hardships and horrors of his past still haunt his happy life as they do for so many others. While Suraj is able to channel it toward helping the Bhutanese community, so many others cannot escape those demons. The suicide rate among resettled Lhotshampas in the United States is alarming. It is a problem that is taken to heart by those building a new life here. Starting over is never easy.
In many ways, Bhutan is starting over as well.
King Jigme Singye Wangchuck abdicated the throne in 2006. This set the stage for Bhutan to become a constitutional monarchy. Sadly, the issues of the Lhotshampas have been pushed further back. This is a new beginning for Bhutan and as the country starts over again, there is hope that maybe this time they will correct the sins of their past.
(Trevor Hart lives in Manchester.)