SEATTLE — The Tibetan refugee crisis continues to remain one of the most crucial regional issues concerning South Asia. The problem stems from a combination of historical and political grievances that continue to have dire impacts like mass migration and internal and external displacement. The problem is also inextricably linked with the present geopolitical relations between China and India.
Waves of Migration
The origins of the Tibetan refugee crisis can be segmented into three parts: the first, second and third waves. The first wave was catalyzed by People’s Republic of China Chairman Mao Zedong’s reunification campaigns between 1949 and 1950, where the Chinese army invaded Tibet and crumbled the autonomous rule and independence enjoyed by the people. With the threat of persecution, the Dalai Lama was forced to flee to Dharamshala, a town now well known as the residence of the Dalai Lama and the headquarters of the Central Tibetan Administration.
During the second wave of the conflict in the 1980s, there was another exodus of Tibetan refugees fleeing political turmoil. The third wave was stimulated by the renewed surge of Tibetan refugees arriving in Dharamshala every year.
Current Struggles of Tibetan Refugees
About 3,000 individuals make treacherous journeys across the Himalayas through Nepal and India annually. A further 100,000 continue to reside in both formal and informal settlements in India. The Sonamling settlement in the district of Leh in Ladakh and is home to one of the largest populations of Tibetan refugees.
Due to the sheer magnitude of the Tibetan refugee crisis, Tibetan refugees are vulnerable, as they lack rights to ownership, property, citizenship and education. A majority of them are deemed stateless by the Indian government, and the Chinese government does not affirm their refugee status. The preservation of Tibetan language and culture also faces insurmountable pressure owing to the ongoing conflict.
Containing the sheer influx of Tibetan refugees still continues to be a priority for the stakeholder groups involved in remediating the Tibetan refugee crisis. Host governments have thankfully refrained from resorting to the practice of refoulement and are accommodating Tibetan refugees. The cooperation and collaboration of neighboring countries has achieved a certain degree of success.
Indian and American Efforts to Ease the Tibetan Refugee Crisis
In order to bolster the social positions of the people, the Delhi High Court recently declared that Tibetan refugees born in India between January 1950 and July 1987 would be given Indian citizenship. In accordance with the Citizenship Act, they will be granted the right to have an Indian passport to ensure greater ease of travel.
Moreover, the Indian government has also aided in improving the refugees’ right to quality education by earmarking ample amounts of funding for schools. These institutions are wholly subsidized by the government and provide free education to young Tibetans in need. In 2015, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government provided ₹400 million to the Dalai Lama’s Central Tibetan Relief Committee for a period of five years.
The next phase in easing the Tibetan refugee crisis could begin with more social progress for this vulnerable group such as providing employment and driver’s licenses, as well as improving access to financial services and other essential welfare benefits. Court orders are emphasizing the adoption of the Tibetan Rehabilitation Policy of 2014, especially at the state level in India.
In September 2017, two U.S. Congressional committees approved the channeling of $17 million to Tibet with the aim of providing aid to preserve the culture and assisting with development initiatives, smoother governance and other key institutions.
The Tibetan refugee crisis exposes the level of turbulence and persecution that still continues to endanger lives, especially in the wake of the Syria and Rohingya refugee crises. With more cooperation and collaboration between important stakeholder groups, effective solutions will have a greater chance of materialization in the near future.
– Shivani Ekkanath