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California's Bhutanese Refugees Celebrate Fall Festival As They Assess Ongoing Challenges

on 2012/10/17 2:35:24 ( 2055 reads )


OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA, October 13, 2012 (Contra Costa Times): Five years after a few pioneering families began trickling into East Oakland and Alameda, a burgeoning Bhutanese exile community is happy to have left refugee camps in Nepal but still struggling to adjust to Bay Area life, according to the first report to survey their well-being. "The community is still trying to survive," said Jiwan Subba, president of the Alameda-based Bhutanese Community in California, a year-old organization helping link the refugees with jobs, health services and fellowship.

Fellowship, at least, was in good supply Saturday afternoon during the community's first public celebration of the Dasain festival, a 15-day Nepali Hindu celebration of the triumph of good over evil. Still, Subba's group used the occasion to reveal some of the economic and social problems felt by the community of several hundred refugees, nearly all of whom have arrived in the past five years.

In a survey of 91 Bhutanese immigrants in Oakland and Alameda, about 68 percent had incomes below the federal poverty line, more than half reported stress-related ailments, 42 percent are unemployed and many say they struggle with the English language, which makes it harder for them to find good jobs.

It is a religiously diverse community, according to the survey: 47 percent Hindu, 34 percent Buddhist and 15 percent Protestant Christian. The youngest members were born in United Nations refugee camps in eastern Nepal. The oldest fled their homeland, the Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan, to escape ethnic tensions and persecution of Bhutanese people of Nepali descent in the early 1990s, and lived in the camps for nearly two decades. Bhutan refused to take them back.

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