CLEVELAND (AP) — Refugees forced from their homes in the Asian kingdom of Bhutan have been working to create a new home in northeastern Ohio while also forming a community aimed at preserving their Bhutanese heritage.
More than 100,000 Bhutanese people were forced out of that country by its government in the 1990s, The Plain Dealer in Cleveland reported . The ethnic groups targeted by the government in Bhutan were the country’s Lhotshampa, descendants of farmers and laborers originally from Nepal.
The Lhotshampa made up one-sixth of Bhutan’s population, and a large number of those forced out were resettled in United Nations-supervised refugee camps in Nepal. Over the past two decades, those refugees resettled across the world — including thousands who came to the United States.
Since 2010, more than 8,000 have relocated to Ohio, and nearly 900 moved to Cleveland, according to the U.S. Department of State.
“The Bhutanese community is doing extremely well, especially from where they started,” said Eileen Wilson, director of refugee ministries for Building Hope in the City, part of the Refugee Services Collaborative of Greater Cleveland.
“When they came from the camps after being there for 25 years, they pretty much came with one suitcase. They had nothing,” she said. “And from there, they bought restaurants, they’ve opened stores, they’ve started businesses, bought houses.”
The Bhutanese are often confused with Nepalese people because they speak the same language, and enjoy similar foods, traditions and cultural characteristics.
Til Mishra, a refugee who arrived in Cleveland in 2015 after spending 23 years in a refugee camp in Nepal, is president of the newly founded Bhutanese Community of Greater Cleveland organization. He said the organization was formed to help preserve the Bhutanese language and culture, create programs to aid refugees such as language instruction and mental health training, and perhaps someday provide a community resource building.
Mishra said he’s seen people in his community experience hope after years in forced isolation in refugee camps.
“We had nothing to hope for, nothing to expect, so we were, in fact, in despair at that time,” he said. “And then when finally resettlement began, slowly and gradually people began to smile.”