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Friday, August 20, 2010

From the Himalayas to Limburg, in search of peace and happiness.

Bhutan is portrayed as a peaceful country, where ‘gross national happiness’ is the government’s top priority. However, starting in the early 90s, over 100,000 Bhutanese citizens, mainly Hindu and Nepalese speaking minorities were driven from Bhutan at gun point, and warned that attempts to return would be met with lethal force. Most of them have been living as refugees in U.N.-administered camps in Nepal ever since, denied a future and the most basic human rights. In 2007, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) launched a resettlement programme, allowing Bhutanese refugees to resettle in various countries. Photo: Peter de Ruiter

The Netherlands receives 500 refugees from various countries each year, and approximately 250 Bhutanese are currently resettled throughout the country, from Friesland in the North, to the South of Limburg. Leaving many of the hardships behind them, new challenges await in adapting to a new culture, learning the Dutch language and eventually find work. The health facilities in the camps are poor, and in the Netherlands they are given the chance to rebuild their life and the right medical treatment.

GHRD currently travels throughout the country, interviewing Bhutanese refugees about their experiences.

One of them is the Khadka family, who moved to a small village in Limburg in 2009. Akil and Til live with son Yog, daughter in law Sabitra, and ten month old grandson. The parents and son fled Bhutan following the detention and torture of Mr. Khadka Sr. Their property was seized and they have lived in a Nepali camp for 17 years. Due to the poor medical facilities, Sabitra endured three miscarriages in the camp, but she gave birth to a healthy son soon after arriving to the Netherlands.

GHRD visited the family together with photographer Peter de Ruiter in their beautiful home with a spacious garden in Limburg. The Khadka family are grateful for the resettlement, and optimistic about their future. They appreciate the Netherlands as a safe, peaceful country with good rules and regulations. I just want to live a simple life here free from torture. I will get a job, and my child will do better.”(Yog Khadka). Mrs Til Khadka too is optimistic: “ I know there is a future for my son and grandson.” (Til Khadka).

The only thing missing is some of the remaining family members that are resettled in other countries. And a Bhutanese Hindu priest. Akil explains; ”There is no Bhutanese Hindu priest here, I wish they could send one with the next group, so I can practice my religion with a fellow countryman.”

Photos: Peter de Ruiter

Note: Global Human Rights Defence (GHRD) has supported the Bhutanese for years, through projects in the camps and in the Netherlands. As from 2010, GHRD conducts research in partnership with the Dutch Refugee Council (VluchtelingenWerk Nederland), into the situation for the Bhutanese in the Netherlands.

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