USCCB News Release
June 10, 2009
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Bhutanese Couple Resettled by U.S. Bishops’ Program to Speak at United Nations’ World Refugee Day Event
WASHINGTON—Khagendra and Ganga Baral, Bhutanese refugees resettled in the United States in 2008 through the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ refugee resettlement program, will speak at this year’s World Refuge Day event on June 18, hosted by the UN Commissioner for Refugees and the National Geographic Museum.
The theme of this year’s celebration, “Real People, Real Needs,” highlights the human story of refugees and their needs. The Barals’ story embodies the tragedy of “statelessness” that hundreds of thousands of Bhutanese, mostly ethnic Nepalis, face after being forced to leave their own country.
“I’m Bhutanese born and was brought up in Bhutan,” says Khagendra. “I still have fresh memories of my beautiful country and peaceful environment growing up. Then one day, I was forcefully evicted from my homeland with my family and left to become a refugee.”
Khagendra was 17 years old when he and his family left Bhutan in 1991. They left in the middle of the night for India after his father, a Ltshompa leader who advocated for equal rights in Bhutan, was imprisoned. The government of India did not allow them to stay and they eventually settled in the Beldangi Refugee Camp in Jhapa, Nepal. “I spent 17 years in the refugee camp, where there is a scarcity of every basic need, even the right to identity,” says Khagendra.
Many Bhutanese refugees desire to return to Bhutan, but the Bhutanese government has not permitted a single refugee to return home. Local integration in Nepal also has not been possible because the government denies refugees two basic prerequisites for it: freedom of movement and the right to work and earn a living. Only a small number of refugees have been able to obtain citizenship in Nepal through either marriage or descent.
With neither repatriation nor local integration a possibility for the vast majority of Bhutanese refugees, resettlement to a third country has emerged as the only durable solution.
“We were in need of a solution, of a second home to build our life. Luckily, our request and prayers were answered by the U.S. government,” says Khagendra.
Khagendra and his wife, Ganga, who also lived at the camp, were part of the initial group of Bhutanese refugees to be resettled by Catholic Charities, Phoenix in March 2008. With no Bhutanese community in the area, the Migration and Refugee Services program of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) sent within the first group of refugees some with higher education levels and hopes that they would be hired. Khagendra has a degree in marketing while Ganga holds a B.A. in business management. In the fall of that year, both were hired by local refugee resettlement agencies as case workers.
With the help of the U.S. refugee resettlement program and Catholic Charities, Phoenix, integration has been possible for the Barals. “Khagendra and Ganga are the perfect example of how successful refugees can be with community support and a chance for resettlement,” said Joanne Morales, director of Refugee Programs for Catholic Charities in Phoenix. “Not only are they economically independent through employment, but they are also giving back. The Phoenix community is truly a better community for having hosted this special family.”
Later this month, the Barals say they will have only one message to communicate at the World Refugee Day celebration: “Thank you for all your generosity, for giving us hope, support and encouragement to rebuild our life. With your support and blessings we are doing good.”
The USCCB is the largest refugee resettlement voluntary agency in the United States. The Refugee Program of Catholic Charities in Phoenix has received special recognition from the USCCB and has also been honored by local community service providers and educational institutions for support of their services.
UNHCR’s World Refugee Day event will be held at 10:00 a.m. at Grosvenor auditorium at the National Geographic Museum at 17th and M Streets. Attendance is by invitation only. For media credentials to the event contact Tim Irwin at IRWINT@unhcr.org or 202-243-7623.
At 1:00 p.m. the Barals also will attend a World Refugee Day event at the USCCB. Joining them will be filmmaker Carly Campo, who will show the documentary “Nationless,” which features the Barals and tells the story of stateless Bhutanese refugees.