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Project September 16, 2014

The Last Refugees: Bhutanese in Nepal

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Image by Julia Rendleman. Bhutan, 2014.
Image by Julia Rendleman. Bhutan, 2014.

The Himalayan country of Bhutan is known to some as a beautiful Shangri-La, a nation with a high "Gross National Happiness."

But this narrative doesn't ring true for the Lhotsampas or "people from the south." The Lhotsampas arrived in Bhutan around 1890, but as they grew in numbers, they were perceived as a threat to the ethnic purity. The Lhotshampas were expelled from Bhutan starting in 1991, some at gunpoint in the middle of the night.

More than 100,000 Bhutanese ended up in refugee camps in Nepal. In 2008, after decades in limbo, a plan for resettlement began.

From Australia to the United States, the refugees began moving into new homes in new communities. Since April, 2014, about 75,000 have been resettled in the United States, according to the International Organization for Migration. The process hasn't always been easy—family members left behind and a lack of community has left many dealing with mental anguish, and a high rate of suicide.

This project tells the stories of those left behind in the camps and those who have come to America, leaving their homeland far behind.

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