‘No other choice’: Winnipegger’s story of 18 years in refugee camps among those highlighted by solidarity walk

Dambar Khadka fled ethnic persecution in his home country of Bhutan in the early 1990s. He came to Canada in 2009 after spending nearly 20 years in refugee camps in Nepal. He will share his story at a gathering at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights Saturday to show support for migrants and refugees. (Sarah Petz/CBC)

Fearing death at the hands of the Bhutanese government, Dambar Khadka fled his home country in the 1990s with nothing but the clothes on his back.

“It was heartbreaking. We could not tolerate it anymore,” he told CBC Radio Weekend Morning Show host Nadia Kidwai in a Saturday interview. 

“We had no other choice to save our life.”

On Saturday, Khadka will share his story at the Migrant and Refugee Solidarity Walk, where Winnipeggers will walk from the Canadian Museum for Human Rights to the Manitoba Legislature to show support for migrants and refugees.

Khadka and his family was forced to flee the South Asian country of Bhutan because of the persecution faced by the ethnic Nepalese population in the early 1990s.

One of his brothers was arrested and beaten after participating in a demonstration, and the military had raided their homes. The family decided it wasn’t safe for them anymore.

“Whether there would be a shelter for us or not, it didn’t really matter because we are at the point where there is no exit,” he said.

“We were so much worried about uncertain future. We didn’t know where to go. We had no destination.”

‘We can make a new life again’

Taking almost nothing with them, the family waded through the forest until they made it to the border of Nepal. There, they were forced to sleep on the street and beg for food and money to survive until they were accepted into a refugee camp.

“The first time we begged in the street, it was heartbreaking. We lost our dignity,” he said.

“We had no choice. If we wanted to live, if we wanted to survive, we had to do that. We had no other options.”

They lived in the camps for close to 20 years. At times, it was hard to hold onto hope for a better life, he said.

Still, Khadka got married and started a family while living in the camps. When the situation felt hopeless, he said he tried to connect with other refugees so he wouldn’t feel so alone.

After 18 years in refugee camps, he was approved for resettlement in seven different countries.

“And when I heard that, oh, I was so happy that we can we can make a new life again — it’s not finished yet, we still have a life ahead.”

He decided to come to Canada with his family in 2009, and now lives in Winnipeg, where he works as a student minister for Knox United Church.

Saturday’s march was organized to highlight the stories of refugees like Khadka, said Janelle Delorme, who works with Caritas Canada, one of the march organizers.

“We really want to hear the voices of refugees, the struggles that they have had in their home country, and what brought them to Canada, and possibly also the struggles that they’ve had here once they have settled in Canada,” she said.

“It’s not always this picture-perfect scenario where they come and everything is laid out on a platter.”

The march begins at the CMHR at 1 p.m., and will move down Broadway to the legislature.

People who attend the march are asked to bring a pair of old shoes, a life-jacket or backpack as a symbol of solidarity that will be placed on the steps of the Manitoba Legislature.

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