Friends of Refugees

A U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Watchdog Group

The Refugee Syndrome: Exploring the psychology of Bhutanese refugees in NYC‏

Posted by Christopher Coen on April 20, 2010

Wui Liang LIM, an M.S Candidate and reporter from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and his colleague, Nikolia Apostolou, recently completed their Master’s Thesis about Bhutanese refugees in New York City. The title is — The Refugee Syndrome: Exploring the psychology of Bhutanese refugees in NYC‏. It’s a multimedia project that explores the psychology of these refugees as they adapt to life in the Big Apple (here).

The IRC declined interviews for the documentary.

In the documentary I noted that Bill Frelick of Human Rights Watch (formerly of the USCRI volag) says that psychiatry may be a solution for refugees’ depression, but does he know how refugees fare with the American mental health system? Will they take pills every day for depression? Many of the male refugees I know will not do that, as they think it is a sign of weakness. People from non-Western cultures also often don’t like our therapy style — i.e. sitting in an office with a stranger and talking about their problems. Wouldn’t it be a better idea for resettlement agencies to try to help ease refugees’ isolation?

By the way, I found the blog of Thakur Prasad Mishra, the Nepali-Bhutanese refugee journalist featured in the documentary. He writes about how dangerous the Bronx neighborhood is where IRC resettled the refugees. A 16-year-old Bhutanese refugee boy was beaten-up three times while walking on the street. (scroll down to August 4, 2009 entry titled Question of Security, here).

An article in the New York Times in September 2009 reported that the IRC had placed the Nepali Bhutanese refugees in a Bronx apartment building with a weed-choked front courtyard and grimy staircases (here). The refugees’ apartments were only furnished with a couple of bureaus and several beds that doubled as couches, and little else (check out the actual State Dept. refugee contract requirements, here). Is this why the IRC doesn’t want to talk about it?

Jit Bahadur Pradhan

The documentary also points to two suicides by Bhutanese refugees in recent months. One of those was 60-year-old Jit Bahadur Pradhan who killed himself on Jan. 11 due to depression (here and here). The USCCB resettled him to Pittsburgh on Dec. 2, 2009 via its Catholic Charities Diocese of Pittsburgh affiliate.

“He was found dead hanging in a laundry room Friday morning,” Bhanu Phuyel, another refugee resettled in the same city, told from the US….Six members of the family were sharing a two-bed room apartment along with another family with four people. They had not received any other facility except food card.

[Jit Bahadur Pradhan] was annoyed with the circumstances, and used to complain with his two sons that the situation there was no better than in the camp in Nepal.

More than 150 Bhutanese refugees…have been resettled in Pittsburgh and outlying areas including Prospect Park and Green Tree. Sixty of them are working in a food-packing company.

Another Bhutanese refugee committed suicide in Nashville.

*UPDATE* Dec. 3, 2010 – Another refugee has committed suicide, this time in Phoenix.

5 Responses to “The Refugee Syndrome: Exploring the psychology of Bhutanese refugees in NYC‏”

  1. […] 21, 2010 This is a story we missed at the time but I see it was reported a couple of days ago at Friends of Refugees where blogger and refugee advocate Christopher Coen tells us more about “refugee […]

  2. Mary said


    I thought refugees received TANF or Match Grant to help fund their resettlement? Why were they only receiving food stamps?

    • Maybe TANF had not yet begun. They were in the US just over a month when he committed suicide. Sometimes there are bureaucratic delays at the state or county level. There should have been enough State Dept. R&P money to cover the rent for a couple months. At that time it was $900 per refugee (now its $1800) with $450 of it available to pay for furnishings, household items, rent and other basic living expenses. They had six people in the family, 6 x $450 = $2700, plus they were sharing the apartment with another family, so their costs would have been less. The question is why did Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Pittsburgh jam 2 families, 10 people, in one apartment? Did they place the refugees in the dilapidated Prospect Park complex?

  3. Mary said

    IRC should take some responsibility for this.

  4. […] which the father of one of the families committed suicide in the apartment building laundry room (here). Catholic Charities Diocese of Pittsburgh has also repeatedly placed refugees in dilapidated […]

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