Friends of Refugees

A U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Watchdog Group

Fargo Nepali-Bhutanese Refugees Face Unemployment, Eviction and Medical Bills

Posted by Christopher Coen on September 28, 2010

The number of Bhutanese refugees who have departed Nepal for the United States will reach 30,000 sometime in the first week of September, according the US embassy in Kathmandu. But success in the U.S. for the Nepali Bhutanese sometimes seem elusive. According to an article in Fargo Forum newspaper these refugees are grappling with the specter of unemployment, eviction and medical bills. Although North Dakota has the nation’s lowest unemployment rate at least ten refugee families, just among the Nepali-Bhutanese refugees in Fargo, have faced eviction notices.

…Community leaders say about 20 percent of Bhutanese of working age in town are unemployed. The newcomers are eager for work, but in an already tough job market, their candidacies can run into extra pitfalls…

…Even some of the Bhutanese who lined up jobs can find themselves living paycheck to paycheck….

…at least 10 families…have received eviction notices. With seven of them to his name, one [Bhutanese refugee] jokes, is “addicted to (the) eviction notice.”…

…Chilling stories about outsized medical bills have spread through the community. A retinal detachment surgery Kashi’s wife needed in the Twin Cities, for instance, set the family back about $12,000, which he’s vowed to pay off gradually.

If we are sick, we don’t go to the hospital – this is our scary part,” says [one Bhutanese refugee]…

Pierre Atilio, until recently a longtime immigrant advocate at Cultural Diversity Resources in Moorhead, says refugees across the board are grappling with economic survival.

In December, he accompanied an Iraqi widow to the Salvation Army. She resettled in the area with her teenage daughter and son in his 20s in 2008. Of the trio, she alone had lined up a job, four months after arriving here: a $7.50 an hour housekeeping gig.

It was a Friday; save for the Salvation Army intervention, she would have been evicted that Sunday.

You are confronted with poor people with fear in their eyes,” Atilio says. “And they are in America, the most powerful country in the world.”

The new-American services team at LSS says 2008 and early 2009 was a rough stretch for refugees. New arrivals weren’t landing jobs, and some who came earlier saw their hours or positions cut…

…And the recent crop of refugees has dodged actual evictions, a fact LSS is proud of, says [LSS refugee services director] Sinisa Milovanovic: “Within a year to a year and a half, we don’t see people contacting us anymore.”  Read more here

I’m not sure I understand why LSSND is proud that ten of the Bhutanese refugee families have faced eviction notices when North Dakota has the nation’s lowest unemployment rate and many more jobs than any other state. Yet, as I’ve found, in the refugee resettlement culture everything seems to be relative. If they have “less” evictions among their refugee clients they feel proud. But in Fargo? The place has cheap rents, low cost-of-living, and relatively plentiful jobs compared to any other place in the nation.

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