On a hot summer sunday morning, 30 people gather in a small apartment in Austin, Texas. Primarily refugees from Bhutan and Nepal, they range in age from 3 to 106. Some arrived in the U.S. 10 days ago. All leave their shoes in a pile by the door. They begin by singing an enthusiastic chorus of Kati Mahan—"How Great Thou Art," in Nepalese—from a handwritten folder of songs.
Their host, Bhim Monger, delivers a sermon, alternating between English and Nepalese. Monger, who has gone by "John" since becoming a Christian 18 years ago, tells his living room congregation that they are now free from oppression, free to live openly in Christ.
Monger and his congregation represent a global movement initiated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to resettle more than 100,000 Bhutanese expatriates who have lived in camps in Nepal since the 1990s. Some 60,000 of them will end up in the U.S. over a five-year period ending in 2012. The U.S. Office of Immigration Statistics records the arrival of 13,452 Bhutanese refugees in 2009, a 153 percent increase from 5,320 in 2008. Nearly 200 of them have landed in Austin and the surrounding Travis County; Monger says about nine Bhutanese families live in his apartment complex.
Mountainous Bhutan, a small country located between China and India, maintains a strict "one nation and one people" policy regarding ethnicity and the official Buddhist religion. According to the U.S. State Department, no refugees have been permitted to return to Bhutan, despite at least 15 negotiation attempts between Nepal and Bhutan. Refugees who have re-entered Bhutan to demonstrate for the right to return have been arrested, reports UNHCR. Bhutan's government, a democratic monarchy, calls ...