Tula Chhetri

(We pick up Tula’s  story from when he arrived in NZ.)

On 14th March 2008, we were the first Bhutanese refugees to enter the Mangere Refugee Centre in Auckland.

After spending 17 terrible years in the refugee camp, I felt very relaxed coming to New Zealand. However, the reality is that there are a number of challenges that face refugees when they enter a new country like New Zealand, for instance, education, health and cultural integration. Learning a new language is one of the main challenges that we face. We had difficulty adapting to the different education system, and coping with educational interference from previous learning in our own system and language.

However, the biggest problem for us is mental health. Most of these issues come from post-traumatic stress and uncertainty about our future. In leaving our home country or countries of asylum, we have not only lost our family and community environments and experienced social isolation due to language difficulties, but also struggle with the cultural differences between our home and host societies and the lack of personal networks. Fear can also continue to haunt us. Our refugee journeys have taken us through long periods of detention, torture, trauma and uncertainty. Our physical and mental wounds from public beatings, torture and eviction are impossible to describe and all are based, in my family’s case on the falsehood that we were illegal immigrants to Bhutan. This was in spite of the fact that our parents and grandparents were Bhutanese citizens. Other mental health problems are contributed to by worries about issues such as housing, financial woes and family left behind.

Nevertheless, I am very happy that the New Zealand Government offered to resettle more Bhutanese refugees from 2008 onwards. We are also supported by several organisations like Refugee Services, Christchurch Resettlement Services, Partnership Health and ESOL support to make us self-sufficient as soon as possible.

I once again thank the New Zealand Government and people who have focussed on the issues of refugees by providing both volunteer support and social workers to help the newly arrived families adapt to the completely new country. All this has been a wonderful start for us in our new land, and I am confident that the things that we lost through persecution can be fully restored here, especially our religion, arts and culture.