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VOICES FROM THE FIELDTHE IRC BLOG
NYC: From exile to refuge [Photos]
March 3, 2009
By Misha Cohen
Click image to start slideshow
After nearly two decades in a refugee camp in Nepal, Chet Nath Timsina and his Bhutanese family were resettled by the International Rescue Committee in New York City, where they marvel at skyscrapers and ride the subway to new jobs in their new homeland.
Chet Nath and Uma remember when their families were ordered to leave their country. Confused and afraid, they fled to refugee camps that had been established by the Nepalese government and the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). “There is a constant insecurity that you have inside of you when you are a refugee,” says Chet Nath. “You can see depression in the faces of refugees. At least I can speak of the Bhutanese refugees. They have lost their charm. I think I look like that.”
Forced to live in temporary camps in Nepal and denied the right to work, they were unable to earn money to provide for their needs. “Education was the only wealth we could accumulate while in exile,” says Chet Nath. He and Uma received bachelor’s degrees while in the camp, traveling by bus to attend classes in neighboring India.
After living in the camp for 12 years, limited to the rice and potatoes provided by nonprofit agencies and without money to support their siblings’ education, Chet Nath and Uma vacated their 8x15-foot double hut, shared by 13 people, in search of forbidden work. The couple found jobs as English-speaking teachers in private schools, which they kept for five years, undetected by authorities. Had they been discovered, they would have been sent back to the refugee camp indefinitely.
All this time, Chet Nath and Uma hoped to return to their native country. But in 2007, with no reparation in sight, they applied for resettlement in a country that could offer them basic human rights. Following a year-long application process with the UNHCR, they were granted resettlement in the United States—which had agreed to accept 60,000 refugees. They were informed of their departure date, Feb. 3, 2009, only two days before their plane would take off for New York.
In those two brief days, they resigned from their jobs, bid farewell to their family and friends, and shifted through their personal belongings and precious family mementos, taking only what they could squeeze into three 50-pound bags. They left without seeing so much as a photograph of their adopted home.
Arriving at JFK airport, they were welcomed by the International Rescue Committee. Their case manager, along with IRC staff and volunteers, would help them find jobs and make the transition to life in the West. The IRC has partnered with the U.S. Department of State to resettle 1,000 Bhutanese refugees in fiscal year 2009. Although Chet Nath and Uma have arrived during difficult economic times, they are overjoyed to have the chance to live and work freely … for the first time in their lives.