Tikaram Chapagai, 46
Bhutanese refugees now living in the USA
Nepalese people in Bhutan were allowed to practice their customs freely and openly until 1989 when the Bhutanese government introduced the slogan ‘one people, one nation’. They introduced a new system categorising people as category one, two, three and four. Categories three and four had to leave, we had no choice, they held a gun to our heads.
We had to leave in 1992. The authorities didn’t give a date but I knew what the consequences would be if I didn’t go. We left with nothing more than the clothes we were wearing at the time and crossed the border at night, spending one night in India before taking a bus to Nepal. For the next 16 years we lived in a refugee camp. We realised after spending so long in the camp that we were never going to be able to return to Bhutan. Our only option was to go to a third country.
It was very exciting in one way, but scary at the same time, to go to a new country where everything was different. We couldn’t imagine what it was going to be like especially for people like us from an undeveloped country. We arrived in New York airport and staff from the IRC (International Rescue Committee) were there to receive us. We went to the Bronx where they had found us an apartment. It was exciting, we saw the subway, the tall buildings and the elevators. It was a totally different world. They had provided all the basic necessities in the apartment. For four months they paid our rent, they took us to the different offices to apply for our papers; social security, work permits, food stamps, medical benefits and we went to English classes. They supported us building up our CVs, finding interviews and also finding a school for our son.
For the first three months it was hard for my wife, she was crying but slowly we adapted. After three months my wife got a job as a nurse in a health centre and I got a job in La Guardia airport as a cashier in one of the parking lots. It is very limited but still I am happy because I have a job. Now we've been here for four years and we feel secure because we know how to get around, we have friends, and our son has done very well in his school, he has received a scholarship to college. We were successful in our journey. Of course we still struggle but we are not failing, we are succeeding. We are making our life.