Nearly every immigrant group in New York City has a neighborhood, or at least a street, to call its own. But for refugees from the tiny South Asian nation of Bhutan, the closest thing to a home base is a single building in the Bronx–a red-brick five-story walk-up, with a weed-choked front courtyard and grimy staircases.
Eight families–more than 40 people–have taken up residence here in the past several months, part of a stream of thousands of Bhutanese refugees who have flowed into the United States in the past year and a half.
All of the newcomers are Bhutanese of Nepalese origin who had migrated to Bhutan or were descended from immigrants. In the early 1990s, Bhutan expelled tens of thousands of Nepali Bhutanese, most of them from poor farming families, accusing them of immigrating illegally. The majority ended up in seven refugee camps in Nepal, where they lived in bamboo-and-thatch huts and were cared for by international aid agencies.
Bhutan refused to take them back and Nepal refused to give them citizenship. In 2007, the United States agreed to resettle at least 60,000 of them. The first arrived in early 2008.