At 99, grandma from Bhutan chooses new life over old

News Stories, 22 August 2011

© UNHCR/P.Baidya
Ninety-nine-year-old Bishnu Maya Bharati Nepal comes out to greet visitors to her home in Beldangi, Nepal.

DAMAK, Nepal, August 22 (UNHCR) Unlike many elderly refugees in eastern Nepal's camps who pass their time reading scriptures and chatting with each other, 99-year-old Bishnu Maya Bharati grabs her refugee identity card and visits the UN refugee agency's office every now and then, asking about her resettlement case.

The old woman, along with eight family members, has been waiting to get resettled in the United States, the largest destination of refugees from Bhutan opting for third country resettlement. Five members of her elder son's family have already started new lives in the United States.

"I want to go for resettlement rather than go back to Bhutan as the future of my children and grandchildren will be better in the US," said Bharati. She had served as a community representative back in Bhutan, and is now an active member of the refugee community in Nepal's Beldangi camp. Still haunted by her past experiences, she said she would still opt for resettlement if repatriation eventually becomes possible.

Like many other Bhutanese of Nepalese origin, her family had to leave their homeland following ethnic tensions in the late 1980s and early 1990s. "The army came knocking at our door at eight o'clock at night and told us to leave the country immediately," she recalled.

The UN refugee agency believes that one family forced to flee is too many. When Bharati's family arrived in Nepal, they had nothing but the clothes on their backs. UNHCR allocated to them a hut in Beldangi refugee camp, one of four camps still open in eastern Nepal.

Some 20 years after her arrival, the family is moving on. Bharati is not worried about the future of her loved ones in the US as she has received information from resettled refugees about the good opportunities there.

"My elder son, who was resettled to Vermont, calls me every two weeks. He says that life in the US is far better than life at the refugee camp. Hence, I am confident that our future will be better there," she said.

In all her 99 years, she has never travelled on an aircraft. She suffers from diabetes and asthma, but her excitement about resettlement overshadows all anxieties.

"I want to celebrate my 100th birthday in my second home, since I have been homeless for almost two decades now," she said, with tears rolling down her cheeks. She added that she wants to be reunited with all the members of her family in North America before she dies.

More than 50,000 refugees have already left for eight different countries under the third country resettlement programme for refugees originating from Bhutan. Out of the remaining camp population of around 62,000, another 47,050 refugees have so far expressed interest in resettlement.

By Pratibedan Baidya in Damak, Nepal