Dilli’s Story: The Journey Of A Bhutanese Refugee

December 2011 was the first time Dilli Timsina ever saw snow in his life. It was just shortly after his arrival to the United States that November. Dilli spent the previous 19 years in a refugee camp in Nepal.

“I am from Bhutan, so I am a Bhutanese refugee,” he said. “The government and the people had different views, and the people started to ask for democracy and human rights in the country, but the government was trying to rule the country. There was a king and the king thought that the people might take over, so in that fear the king started kicking people out the country. He started kicking people out in 1988. From 1988 to 1993 almost 100,000 Bhutanese left the country and went to Nepal.”

India is between Bhutan and Nepal. He and his family stopped in India on the way, but the India government didn’t let them stay there. The government took them to Nepal because they were originally from Nepal. Dilli spent from 1992, when he left Bhutan, until 2011 in Nepal.

There were seven camps in Nepal, he explained. When the camp first started in 1990 most people died there. They didn’t have food or medical services Dilli said.

Dilli said that, “camp life was miserable and it was difficult. There wasn’t enough to do to live a life there. It’s difficult to explain it.”

“Once the refugee population started to increase the United Nations of Nepal started to take over. They went there to distribute food materials to keep people alive. They also distributed tents that were 14 feet by 10 feet for each family to live in. This was all there when I came to Nepal in 1992. It is also when education started in the camps.”

He explained teachers would teach students by the river near their tents. They didn’t have much of anything until the director from Campus Nepal came to the camps and saw the work the refugees were doing with their students. After one year of this the director started providing some materials for education, and eventually started a school for them to teach in. Prior to that education was only to a grade eight, but Campus Nepal helped get education up to a grade 10.

Shortly after, he realized it would be better for him to go to schools outside the city and teach English to private and Bhutanese schools. In Nepal people speak Nepali and since they were not fluent with English their curriculums were in their native language. It was better for Dilli to get a job at a private school to help him live and further his education. He ended up receiving his bachelor’s degree while teaching in Nepal. In his school there were 3,500 kids from kindergarten up to grade 10.

“The International Organization of Migration (IOM) came to the camp in Nepal and explained the process for us to leave the country and there was a chance for us to leave and go to one of seven different countries,” he said. “They also told us just because you pick a place it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be accepted there or not, but the maximum number of spot allowances was in the United States. There was also Australia, Canada, Netherlands, New Zealand, Denmark and Norway. Almost 80,000 people resettled into the United States throughout all 50 states. There was only a maximum of a couple thousand in other countries to a minimum of 500.”

Dilli tried to go back home to Bhutan, but couldn’t. India was between Nepal and Bhutan and he couldn’t get through India. India implemented laws that put people in jail and the language barrier did not help them. At that point they lost hope in returning home, but it was also at that time the IOM gave them the option to resettle somewhere and start a new life.

“If you want to go you have to fill out the application, but not everyone does there are still around 10,000 to 15,000 people that are still there in the camps. It was a long process for the application,” he said. “It takes about one year to four years for the process. We fill out the application, they study the file and if there are not any issues like a political background or terrorism, or even being a public servant, they screen them and ask them a lot of questions.”

“They do interviews, the first interview they ask why we left the country and why we want to go to America. They take your picture and you continue you on to five or six more interviews. We then have meetings with the Department of Homeland Security. After that they send out our name in the United States to see if our name matches anyone’s name in terrorism. We go through a medical screening process, mostly they screen for tuberculosis and if they don’t find anything they send our information to travel document officers.”


After they go through the checklists and all the interviews, refugees are mandated to go to a three day, eight hour a day orientation before they arrive at the airport for their flights. Dilli’s relocation took almost three years to process and screen. After the flight he came to Erie to begin his new life.

Dilli has a son who he immediately enrolled in McKinley Elementary school.

“My son was nine-years-old when we got here. He studied English and he had English knowledge prior to coming so it made the transition a lot easier for him. He’s so happy to go to school in the morning, he loves school,” he said.

Dilli currently works at the Multicultural Community Resource Center. When he brought his son to school his ESL teacher noticed he spoke English well and called the Center. This led to him getting a part-time position as an ESL teacher for five months before being hired as a caseworker, the position he currently holds.

“A lot of people are new in the United States and don’t know what to do and what not to do here,” he said. “I help direct them to the services and take them to their appointments and transport them to and from their jobs if they need rides. I help them find jobs and set up their cable, electricity, and gas bills, and whatever else they might need.”

The biggest difference, besides the snow, Dilli is the neighborhoods.

“With my people we always knew who was next to us and our neighbors, but here nobody cares who’s next to them. I don’t know who lives next to me here, a lot of people are around, but we feel lonely. It is very, very different from home to here.”

He had to start over when he came to the United States. The systems are different here and that was difficult, but besides that Dilli claimed it wasn’t very hard for him to adjust to Erie.

“It wasn’t very hard for me to restart, but it is for most people. I had the ability to change myself. Those who don’t want to change themselves have a lot of problems, along with the English language barrier. There was English education in Bhutan and we continued the same education in Nepal. The difficulty was to understand the people here with the pronunciation with the words here and we never heard the English people speaking English. The accent made a difference, we were only used to Nepali people speaking English.”

Even though Dilli misses home sometimes, he knows he can’t go back and is happy with where his life has brought him now. He’s been through a lot since he had to flee his home in 1992, but fortunately for him there were better days ahead.


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