Efforts under way to make new ethnic group feel welcome
Home at last?
Northland Community Council vice president Emmanuel V. Remy told representatives of member organizations about a meeting he and president Dave Paul participated in recently involving some of the Bhutanese Nepali residents in the neighborhood.
This is a relatively new minority group in central Ohio, Remy said.
It was one that also had a fairly low profile until an Aug. 24 police-involved shooting at the 604-unit Breckenridge Apartments on Shanley Drive east of Karl Road. Initial reports said a melee that broke out there that night was a result of racial tensions between the Bhutanese people and African American residents of the complex, but Remy said that turned out not to be the case.
It was instead, he said, a matter of a robbery.
The incident involved a “couple of gangsters robbing people,” Abdi Soofe of the city’s Community Relations Commission told The Columbus Dispatch for a story that ran on Sept. 6.
A 21-year-old man died after being shot by a police officer as he scuffled with another cop during a fight involving more than two dozen people in the courtyard of the apartment complex, according to The Dispatch.
Angie Plummer, executive director of Community Refugee and Immigration Services-Ohio, said the situation was not the result of racial tensions but was instead “a bunch of criminal ... ne’er-do-wells looking for people to prey on.”
Nevertheless, city officials and Northland community leaders have begun working to bridge cultural differences and to arrange a meeting of the minds among apartment complex residents.
The first Bhutanese Nepali refugee family arrived in central Ohio three years ago, Remy said.
There are now about 600 of them living in central Ohio, and roughly 100 of those live in the Breckenridge Apartments, he added.
The Bhutanese Nepali refugees are “very peaceful Hindus” who like to keep to themselves, he said.
They have also been “persecuted wherever they go and so far have not found things warm and fuzzy here,” Remy said.
The website bhutaneserefugees.com, a collaboration between two United Kingdom-based charitable and support groups, identifies Bhutan as a Bhuddist kingdom situated “between the emerging superpowers of India and China.”
According to the website, Bhutan, “has generated one of the highest numbers of refugees in the world in proportion to its population ... The vast majority of the refugees are Lhotshampas, one of Bhutan’s three main ethnic groups, who were forced to leave Bhutan in the early 1990s. There is ample evidence, as documented by Amnesty International and other human rights organizations that the expulsion of large numbers of Lhotshampas was planned and executed with meticulous attention to detail.”
Also according to the website, more than 105,000 Bhutanese have spent more than 15 years living in refugee camps established in Nepal and thousands more are living outside the camps in Nepal and India, as well as in North America, Europe and Australia.
“Since 2008 a resettlement process has seen many thousands of Bhutanese refugees from the camps in Nepal being resettled primarily in the USA but also in Canada, Australia, Denmark, New Zealand, the Netherlands and Norway,” the website says.
“This new culture is vulnerable,” Paul said at the NCC's meeting last week.
Few of them speak English, he added, other than a handful of community leaders.
Meetings that have followed in the wake of the Aug. 24 outbreak of violence have had generally positive results, Paul said.
The refugees, after so much persecution in their homeland and later in the camps in Nepal, have been shocked to discover they might finally have found a place that will welcome them, Paul said.
“They want to contribute to American society,” Remy said. “They feel like this is their home now.”
Getting Bhutanese Nepali residents to become involved in the community may be a way of driving crime out of the Breckenridge Apartments, he continued. Paul said the apartments are in a low-income neighborhood that is close to the Northland Village redevelopment project off Morse Road.