On May 13th 2008, the first batch of Bhutanese comprising of two families arrived in Adelaide in South Australia. To date as many as 750 Bhutanese have resettled in different parts of Australia. South Australia alone has welcomed around 300 Bhutanese in Adelaide.
Bhutan, referred to as ‘the Last Shangrila’, is a tiny Himalayan country sandwiched between the two giants, India and China. It has a total area of 48,000 sq km and a population of around 800,000. For the last 100 years, Bhutan has been ruled by absolute monarchs. Till the beginning of 2008, there was no constitution, independent judiciary or rule of law. From 1988, the human rights situation aggravated, when Royal Government enacted discriminatory policies to depopulate the Lhotshampas – Southern Bhutanese of Nepalese origin, predominantly Hindus.
The Royal government treats Lhotsampas as second class citizens. They are persecuted, discriminated and denied the most basics like access to education and health facilities. They are deprived of their cultural rights and are forced to adopt the cultural tradition, costume and language of the ruling elite. In the late eighties, the Royal Government adopted retroactive citizenship legislation and started to disenfranchise and depopulate the Lhotshampas. Tens and thousands of them were forcibly evicted, who ended up in the United Nations established refugees camps in Nepal.
For last 17 years, Bhutanese refugees remained in the UNHCR assisted camps with a hope to return to their respective homes and farms in Bhutan. Having failed to see the possibility of repatriation, a vast number of Bhutanese refugees have accepted the offer given by Australia, Canada, Denmark, Netherland, New Zealand, Norway and United States for third country resettlement.
It may be kindly noted, that southern Bhutanese still living in Bhutan are, continued to be deprived of range of Human Rights, and there is every possibility of further de-te-rio-ration of Human Rights situation in Bhutan. Still there are over 80,000 Bhutanese refugees in the camps in Nepal waiting for either repatriation or third country resettlement.
We would like to express heartfelt gratitude to our Honourable Premiere, the Government and the People of South Australia for accepting us as permanent residents. Our special thanks to our entire service providers such as MRC, Centerlink, Medicare, ARA for their continuing support and services.
Having already resettled in Australia, we hope to gradually traverse form the dark and traumatic past into the sound and optimistic future. With the initial support and services from the government, we are slowly coping up with the new life. Many adults and senior citizens might take some time to fully adjust to the new cultural environment, but for the children, teenagers and youth the future holds a lot of promise – provided they work hard with devotion and dedication.
Australia has given us a real opportunity to begin a new life. All Bhutanese must, therefore, strive hard to make their life purposeful and meaningful.