Just because these refugees make it across the border into neighbouring countries does not mean that all their problems disappear in an instant. In fact, as we shall now see, they still face many problems in the countries which they have decided to shelter in. Since the vast majority of these Tibetan migrants end up in India, we will look at some of the problems which they have to face there. It is important to emphasise the fact that these are just a handful of the problems which Tibetan refugees are faced with on a regular basis.
- Tibetan refugees suffer from a lack of housing. When the mass exodus first occurred, a family of five was given a house with two or three rooms and some land to grow crops on. However, as the refugee population has increased dramatically since then, there is now a serious issue of overcrowding. Houses which were built for housing five people now have ten or more people living in them. To add to this, many of the original houses have not been renovated in over 40 years. Therefore, thousands of refugees are living in unsuitable and poor conditions.
- Due to the aforementioned unsuitable and poor conditions in the refugee camps, many Tibetans in India suffer from respiratory diseases, diarrhea, skin conditions and gastroenteritis. In addition to this, Tuberculosis is also rife in these camps; since 1959, there have been 35,000 reported cases of tuberculosis in the Tibetan communities in India. The overcrowded conditions help to aid the spread of these contagious diseases. However, to be fair, the cases of tuberculosis have steadily decreased over the past few years.
- Many Tibetans in India have a lot of difficulty finding any work as local employers often prefer to employ Indian nationals instead of foreigners. Those that do manage to find work are often severely underpaid; they often get paid an annual wage which is less than half of what an Indian national would get per year. Because of their economic struggles, many resort to alcohol to drown their sorrows and they eventually become alcoholics.
- Most of the settlements are located on lands which are prone to drought. To add to this, only around 5% of each settlement is equipped with irrigation systems. Therefore, during periods of severe drought, only 5% of the available land in these camps will be able to yield crops. Sometimes, there is only one crop a year. Thus, Tibetan refugees are often faced with food shortage problems.
- Tibetans are free to travel but they must first get permission from Indian authorities and, when they return, they must report back to the local police. To add to this, they also have to carry their identification papers (a Registration Certificate) with them at all times. Even with this certificate, Tibetan refugees are still restricted from visiting certain areas of the country. If Tibetan refugees want to leave India they must get an Identity Certificate from the government. However, in order to get this certificate, they must be in possession of a valid Green Book and Registration Certificate. Even if they have these two documents it does not guarantee that they will get the Identity Certificate as Indian authorities often expect bribes which the Tibetan refugees are unable to afford. Therefore, a Tibetan refugee’s freedom of movement is often severely restricted.
- Tibetans also have a problem communicating with local Indians as they do not know the languages very well. On top of this, they only have clothes which are suited for the cold conditions up in the mountains. Therefore, when they are living in India their woollen garments often mean that it is impossible for them to live comfortably.
The Chinese occupation
In 1950, the People’s Liberation Army of the People’s Republic of China invaded Tibet, leading to the Seventeen Point Agreement in 1951. This agreement was meant to confirm Chinese sovereignty over Tibet while granting it autonomy in cultural and religious matters. However, many Tibetans and outside observers argue that this agreement was signed under duress.
Amid growing discontent and resistance to Chinese rule and policies seen as diluting Tibetan culture and religion, a significant uprising erupted in Lhasa in 1959. The Chinese government cracked down heavily on the rebellion, leading to the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual and political leader, fleeing to India, where he established a government-in-exile.
During the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), Red Guards targeted religious institutions across China, including Tibet. Many monasteries were destroyed or repurposed, and countless religious artefacts were lost.