The story told by Hari Adhikari, a 46-year-old refugee from Bhutan whose family has been relocated to Syracuse, N.Y., illustrates the conflicts surrounding the displacement of thousands of Bhutanese who may be bound for resettlement in the United States.
Mr. Adhikari, who speaks English well, was part of a team that wrote a book in the early 1990s called Bhutan: A Shangri-la Without Human Rights.
In Bhutan, Mr. Adhikari ran a footwear business. But he said he became a human-rights activist as well. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, he said, he was taken into custody or jailed seven times and tortured in prison.
Mr. Adhikari said he was taken to Bhutan’s border in 1992, beaten, and forced to sign a statement saying he was voluntarily leaving and had received all of his belongings. In fact, he said, the government had taken his property and sold the contents of his store.
Mr. Adhikari said he was a leader among Bhutanese refugees living in camps in Nepal. Initially, he advocated the “right to return” for the refugees, but when the Bhutanese government failed to permit that, he pushed for the option of resettlement in other countries.
Tshewang C. Dorji, the counselor for the mission of Bhutan to the United Nations, responded in an e-mail message to Education Week that “the claim that people living in the refugee camps were forced out of Bhutan is totally baseless.”
He wrote: “Many ethnic Nepalese left Bhutan in the early 1990s as they were illegal immigrants, while others left after renouncing their citizenship, having sold their land and property to voluntarily emigrate to India and Nepal.”
Mr. Dorji also said that any allegations by refugees that they were tortured in Bhutan “are totally false and deliberately fabricated to malign the image of Bhutan.”
According to the U.S. Department of State’s annual report on human rights, issued last month, there were no reports of torture in Bhutan in 2007.
The State Department report also states that, “in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the government committed numerous abuses against the ethnic-Nepalese Bhutanese minority,” which led to the departure or expulsion of about 100,000 members of that minority group, a figure the Bhutanese government disputes.
A version of this article appeared in the April 30, 2008 edition of Education Week as Ethnic Dispute Still Echoes