The Bhutanese are Nashville’s newest refugee community. In January 2007, the US Department of State announced it would host the resettlement of 60,000 Bhutanese over the next several years to cities across the US. The first Bhutanese refugees reached Nashville in July 2008, but most arrived in the middle of 2009. After their first year in Nashville, almost all of the Bhutanese live in one southeast Nashville apartment complex.
For the Bhutanese, the ideals of refugee resettlement are often at odds with reality. The isolation and new environment can be harsher than imagined; the resettlement process can deliver less than expected. For new arrivals, every day is a race against time; after eight months the federal funding ends and the health insurance disappears. In Nashville and across the US, newly arrived refugees often go unnoticed, until they emerge as contributing residents and eventually Americans.
Unlike previous refugees, the Bhutanese are being resettled to the US during the worst economic crisis since World War II, when refugee resettlement first began. For the Bhutanese, that means jobs are harder to come by and refugees increasingly compete with native residents, who don’t have the same language and transportation barriers. The Bhutanese, like all refugees, have an eight month window of federal funding and health insurance during which they must become self sufficient.
Next Door Neighbors: Bhutanese shows the process of initial refugee resettlement and the isolation, shock and sacrifice all refugees experience in the first two years of resettlement.