The population in Bhutan mainly consists of two communities: the Drukpas and the Lhotshampas. Bhutanese rulers forced the Lhotshampas, minority ethnic Nepalis from Southern Bhutan, to adhere to unusual regulations in order to create a homogenous culture across the nation. The unfair treatment included compelling them to wear traditional clothing, stripping them of their citizenship, and forcing them into exile. Nepali language classes and Hindu schools were also terminated with the intention that this would put an end to their customs and beliefs. In 1985, conflict between these two communities resulted in a mass exodus of Lhotshampas to Nepal. These Bhutanese refugees in Nepal were considered “illegal immigrants” despite their Nepali origins. Until 1994, more than 110,000 Lhotshampas took refuge in seven United Nations-administered camps in Nepal living in very poor conditions. Initially, the refugee population aided in developing an infrastructure prioritizing education and the standard of living, however, as more and more refugees sought shelter in these camps, the situation gradually worsened. Donations from around the world decreased and the educated youth found jobs outside of the camps. The camps would not serve as a permanent solution to the growing number of Bhutanese refugees in Nepal.

Bhutanese Refugees in Dallas, TX

The United States eventually volunteered to resettle 60,000 of these refugees, with the remainder destined to go to other developed nations including Australia, Canada, Norway, Netherlands, New Zealand and Denmark who have offered to resettle 10,000 each. In 2008, they began arriving in the United States in what the UN has described as one of the world’s largest resettlement efforts ever.  These refugees are given only a few months of support from the government and the resettlement agencies. After that, they are required to become self-sufficient.  The most pressing needs are for financial assistance, employment, and basic material needs. They also require support to help them make the transition to this new land.


These are families who cannot afford to buy essentials such as blankets, winter jackets, and toys for their children. Many have no jobs or are students and have no income. Although the VolAgs (Voluntary Agencies), or resettlement agencies, provide some support for the first few months, it is not adequate. Since agency support and government aid is not available to them for an extended period of time, the assistance of Sewa International is quickly becoming a lifeline for many of these families. The Bhutanese Refugee Empowerment (BRE) project by Sewa International is working towards helping the refugees for their short term and long term needs. Necessities such as living arrangements, clothing, and employment have been arranged through local volunteers to smoothen the transition to a new way of life.

Sewa International is working on helping Bhutanese refugees settle down culturally in a new environment, financially, and professionally. Volunteers from Sewa International as well as Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, temples, and other local organizations are helping with the basic essentials including housing and its supplies, transportation for grocery shopping, medical needs, and immigration offices, and setting up internet centers and other forms of communication. Many are helping with driving exams and lessons since transportation is required for almost all activities. In Atlanta, GA as well as other locations, ongoing outreach programs have been implemented. These include visits to families and helping with their day-to-day needs (some individuals and families have even “adopted” them), employment training, driving lessons, and job placement. Above all, volunteers are helping Bhutanese refugees integrate culturally as well. During Makar Sankranti, Sewa International centers celebrated with large numbers of families gathered to welcome new friends and rejoice in this auspicious occasion. With Holi and Ugadi festivals coming up, more celebrations are on their way. By taking families to local temples, celebrating festivals, and providing religious reading material for spiritual development, Bhutanese families have been able to retain their cultural values abroad.


However, with the global recession, employment has remained a challenge. Though many of the refugees are educated and can speak English, many of them have remained without a job. The Bhutanese people come from varying backgrounds. Despite their education and experience, they lived in refugee camps where they did not have work permits and were not used to living in a culture where working is something everyone would have to do. With the growing numbers of volunteers, job search and preparation is aiding in refugee employment. In Cleveland, Ohio, the Shangri-La Job Placement Agency, a newly formed group of Sewa International youth volunteers, joined other Sewa International volunteers in celebrating Makar Sankranti while giving tips on finding a job, job etiquette, and financial matters. The Bhutanese refugees benefitted greatly from this resourceful event. Furthermore, Sewa International is applying for federal and corporate funding in order to support the growing numbers of refugees in the US throughout the next few years.


For more information on BRE work across the US or if you would like to contact local coordinators, please visit