Bhutanese refugees make a home in Cleveland Heights

Heights Welcome Hub meets at the Noble Neighborhood branch of Heights Libraries. Photo courtesy Heights Libraries.

Recently, Cleveland Heights City Council approved formation of an Immigration Task Force.

Some residents may be unaware that Cleveland Heights is home to refugees from Bhutan, who live primarily in the Noble neighborhood. Bhutanese refugees have also relocated to several other eastern suburbs, including Lyndhurst, Mayfield Heights, Richmond Heights and South Euclid.

Bhutan is a small country in the Himalayas, between India and China. In the 1990s, Bhutan stripped the minority Bhutanese (Nepali-speaking and largely Hindu in majority Buddhist Bhutan) of their citizenship, and more than 1 million were exiled to refugee camps run by the United Nations in neighboring Nepal.

Beginning in 2007, the U.N.'s refugee agency arranged for an international resettlement program assisted by the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The United States agreed to accept more than 60,000.

Some began arriving in Cleveland in 2008, and were assisted by several organizations, including Cleveland Catholic Charity's Migration & Refugee Services, the West Side Ecumenical Ministry/Building Hope in the City, the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, and US Together (in Cleveland Heights).

Assisted by US Together, some Bhutanese refugees settled in apartments in the Noble neighborhood. Approximately 40 Bhutanese families now live in that neighborhood. Their children attend ESL (English as a Second Language) classes at the Noble Neighborhood Branch of Heights Libraries, which hosts a weekly Welcome Hub for the Bhutanese.

Draupadi Pradhan, who has been retained by the library to teach ESL classes both to children and adults, is herself a refugee. She arrived here in October 2012 through IOM. She has a brother in Canada, parents in Vermont, and other relatives elsewhere in the United States; her spouse's relatives live in Cleveland.

The Bhutanese have also been assisted by a variety of social service agencies, including Asian Services in Action Inc., which provides citizenship classes. Ganesh Pradhan, who resettled in Cleveland Heights in 2011, works there in the Self-Sufficiency Department.

Sewa International USA (a Hindu charity) has started offering tutoring classes, and the Bhutanese community itself has established a Bhutanese Community of Greater Cleveland nonprofit organization. Its volunteers are teaching Nepali language classes. Mostly farmers in Bhutan, these refugees have found work in a variety of occupations.

W. Dennis Keating

W. Dennis Keating is professor emeritus at the Levin College of Urban Affairs, Cleveland State University. He is a longtime Cleveland Heights resident. A member of the FutureHeights board, he serves on its Planning & Development Committee.

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Volume 11, Issue 6, Posted 11:44 AM, 06.01.2018