Library partners to screen film about Bhutanese refugees

"Refugees of Shangri-La," a documentary film about the recent experience of Bhutanese refugees settling in America, will be shown on June 11, 6 p.m., at Garfield Memorial Church (1534 South Green Road in South Euclid).

The screening came about through a partnership of the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Public Library System, the Cleveland-based ASIA Inc. and Garfield Memorial Church, and provides an opportunity for residents to learn about this growing group of refugees who have been settling in the Heights for nearly 10 years.

“Since 2008, Bhutanese refugees have been arriving in the Greater Cleveland area, primarily settling in Cleveland Heights, South Euclid and Cleveland’s West Side,” said Michael To, program coordinator at ASIA Inc. “Right now, about 400–500 Bhutanese refugees live in the Cleveland Heights area.”

According to To, the refugees’ ancestors were originally from Nepal but migrated to the southern part of Bhutan for good farmland. They remained separate from the rest of the country, keeping their language and traditions. However, in the late 1980s and early ‘90s, the king of Bhutan enacted policies of ethnic cleansing in an attempt to homogenize the country. This forced many to return to the eastern part of Nepal, where they were put in seven refugee camps for more than 15 years.

“Life in the camps provided the refugees with no way to sustain themselves independently, leading to a dependence on outside agencies to provide food and shelter,” said To. “After several bilateral talks between Nepal and Bhutan regarding the refugees went nowhere, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration coordinated to resettle the refugees around the world, including right here in the Heights.”

For the past two years, Heights Libraries has been providing assistance to the Bhutanese refugees who live near the Noble Neighborhood Library, and recently partnered with ASIA Inc. on citizenship classes, which will take place throughout the summer.

Also during the summer, the resettlement agency US Together will run an ESL (English as a Second Language) camp for kids at the Noble Neighborhood Library, which will also offer language classes for adult refugees.

“The language barrier continues to be one of the biggest issues, sometimes even more so as many of the refugees were illiterate in their homeland,” said To.

The Noble Neighborhood Library also continues to offer the Welcome Hub program on Saturdays, 3–5 p.m., where refugees can feel welcome and find information to help them resettle and acclimate to their new home.

More information about the film and Heights Libraries’ programs for refugees can be found at

Sheryl Banks

Sheryl Banks is the marketing and community relations manager for the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Public Library System.

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Volume 9, Issue 6, Posted 10:12 AM, 05.30.2016