Bhutanese man missing in New Zealand

By Rachel Moore in Stuff

A family is fearing for the safety of a missing man originally from Bhutan who relished his freedom in New Zealand after more than 20 years in a refugee camp.

Bir Bahadur Poudel​, 69, lives with his son Gopal Poudyel​ on John F Kennedy Drive, Palmerston North. He left his house at 8.30am on October 23 and hasn’t been seen since.

Poudyel said his father liked to walk long distances, but would always come back at night.

There were 170 Bhutanese households in Manawatū. Poudel knew people in about 50 of them and would stop off for cups of tea on his wanderings.

Poudyel said although Poudel was 69, he was physically in great shape. “He can walk faster than we can.”

Poudel’s journeys took him from Milson across the city to Highbury, where he had friends, and into the central busines district. “We are just worried.”

The family were finding nights particularly hard, thinking about Poudel out in the cold, dark and rain.

Poudel loved his grandsons, aged 6 and 8, and would often take them to Milson School before catching the bus to English classes at English Language Partners on King St.

“More than us, he loves them,” Poudyel said. “On the second day he went missing my boys were crying.”

They would ask where their granddad was and become upset when told he still hadn’t come home.

Poudel did not have warm clothes with him, and was wearing a black turtleneck and light grey pants.

There was confusion about what hat he had on. It was either a Bhutanese cap or a navy woollen hat with white and red stripes.

He was not carrying identification or a cell phone and it wasn’t known if he took cash.

Poudel had been taking English classes at English Language Partners for about three years, but struggled to understand sentences.

He would say “kia ora” or “hello” to the people he passed on the street, and neighbours could mostly understand him, but he would often lose his confidence or be unable to say English words.

Poudyel said his father could understand singular words, such as if someone said “address” he could say where he lived.

But if someone asked him “where do you live?” he would not understand.

The family came to New Zealand in January 2015, after more than 20 years in a Nepalese refugee camp.

In their home area of Khibesha, Bhutan, there was conflict between ethnic groups amid political, cultural and religious differences and rumours spread of deaths in other villages.

Out of fear the family of 10 and other villagers left on foot for Nepal through rough terrain, including mountains, as well as rivers and dense bush.

Their seven-day journey ended at a refugee camp in Nepal, where they stayed in and illness-rampant conditions before moving to another camp.

The family stayed from 1993 to 2007, but realised Nepal could not offer them the life they wished for their children and moved to New Zealand.

The community had rallied around the family, and had been driving and walking around the neighbourhood looking for Poudel.

“In our community people are so helpful, whenever we need,” Poudyel said.

People were checking their properties morning and night, and elderly men who wore Nepalese caps were asked to keep them off to reduce confusion.

English Language Partners manager Jessica Yap said older students from refugee backgrounds often did not have an education in their own language, making it hard to learn a new tongue.

She said it could take years to learn to say their own name and recite their address.

Yap said Poudel took English classes from Mondays to Thursdays, totalling 10 hours a week.

She described him as gentle and said you could occasionally get a smile out of him. “We feel really sad and anxious for him.”

Poudyel said the police would visit him two or three times a day to check in and talk about where they were looking.

A police spokeswoman said the officers were searching the wider Manawatū area. Police were asking people to search their properties.

“Our priority is to ensure that he is located safe and well, so we can reunite him with his family.”

Anyone who has seen Poudel can wcontact police on 105 and quote the file number 201024-3032.

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