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Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

  • Aru Pande

It’s lunchtime and Anjali Bhandari is busy preparing Nepalese curries at her parents’ Café Momo in Manchester.

Bhandari’s family resettled in New Hampshire seven years ago after spending years in a refugee camp in Nepal. They were forced out from their native Bhutan in the early 1990s by the largely Buddhist kingdom because of their ethnic Nepali Hindu origin.

Now, this 23-year-old new American citizen is happy to call the United States home.

“We have the freedom to do anything here than in our country,” Bhandari said during a break from her cooking.

Anjali Bhandari prepares Nepalese curries with co-workers at her parents’ Café Momo in Manchester, New Hampshire, Feb. 6, 2016. (A. Pande/VOA)
Anjali Bhandari prepares Nepalese curries with co-workers at her parents’ Café Momo in Manchester, New Hampshire, Feb. 6, 2016. (A. Pande/VOA)

Each year for nearly a decade, the U.S. State Department has resettled hundreds of Bhutanese refugees in an unlikely place – the northeastern state of New Hampshire. The community numbers nearly 2,000.

Suraj Budathoki arrived in Manchester in 2009 as part of the U.S. refugee resettlement program.

The young father holds two jobs, including one at the Bhutanese Community of New Hampshire, where he helps fellow refugees settle into their new life.

“I am happy, I am here. I am doing my best. I am doing great,” Budathoki said. “Hopefully I will be better off with my family and do something for the community that has helped me when I was in the refugee camp.”

Like other New Hampshire residents, the refugee is following the presidential campaign closely now that he is an American citizen, attending rallies and trying to gauge candidates’ perspectives, particularly on human rights.

“It is tough, really tough to choose the best candidate,” Budathoki said.

While he did not name any particular candidate or party, Budathoki said he is dismayed by the comments from some on the global refugee crisis.

“It’s not good that the presidential candidate should bring this type of hateful rhetoric against these refugees, who at this time need the help,” he said.

With the help of grants from the government and private donations, the Bhutanese Community of New Hampshire helps up to 3,500 refugees resettle here in the state, and not just people from Bhutan, but refugees from Burma, Sudan and Iraq.

Bhagirath Khatiwada oversees all programs at the Bhutanese Community of New Hampshire, helping refugees get jobs, sign up for health care and learn English. He disputes the perception that immigrants take away opportunities from Americans.

“Within a short period of time, they have contributed significantly to the state of New Hampshire,” Khatiwada noted. “Just look at the cultures that they brought, how rich we have become after the arrival of immigrants and refugees in the state.”

This new American citizen and father of two, who arrived in the U.S. eight years ago, says he is grateful for the opportunity and freedom he and other refugees now enjoy.

“People are very welcoming. They receive us with their open arms. We are very thankful to the government of this great country and the people of this great country.”