About the Author: Atul Keshap is Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs.
After meeting with Nepal's Home Minister, the Chief Secretary, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and speaking about Nepal's refugees from a higher level, I wanted to get a firsthand view of the situation and speak with the refugees themselves. So this morning I visited the International Organization for Migration's (IOM) Transit Center.
The Transit Center was built just three years ago and has already helped prepare 35,000 Bhutanese refugees for their new lives in the United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and a handful of European countries. The United States is willing to consider more, as need dictates. More than 75,000 still remain in UN-managed camps in eastern Nepal.
The U.S. Government funded the Transit Center construction, and I have to say, it was money well spent. It was well constructed -- and quickly, to meet the needs of the transiting refugees -- and every inch of the space is being put to practical use. Training rooms, bunk-style dormitories, a cafeteria, administrative office space, a gas pump, and an on-site doctor's office fill the compound. Refugees are taught about American money, transportation, multi-culturalism, food, and other aspects of daily life. I'm amazed at the courage of these refugees and their willingness to abandon all they have known for a completely different life in the United States. After some refugees nearly collapsed on arrival in the United States from dehydration and weakness because they were afraid they would have to pay for their strange meals and drinks, IOM focused on an orientation course on air travel. They are also instructed on how to use a boarding pass and airplane toilets, among so many other things many of us take for granted.
A small group of 30-40 people were at the Transit Center when I visited, which gave me the opportunity to speak one on one with them. (Thankfully, my Hindi has held up well enough after having lived in India!) They told me about the help they've been receiving from IOM and other international donors, the experiences of their families who have already resettled in America, their strong desire to work hard at any job they could find, and their fears of the unknown, particularly with regard to the cost of living in the United States and dealing with cold weather and snow. Mostly a younger group, their excitement was palpable. These people were ready to face the unfamiliar and carve out a life for themselves in a land they could barely imagine. I'm proud to welcome to them to America!