Dalai Lama’s suggestion on refugees’ right to return home controverted

His Holiness the Dalai Lama addresses members of the press in Malmö, Sweden on September 12, 2018. (Photo courtesy:  Jeremy Russell)
His Holiness the Dalai Lama addresses members of the press in Malmö, Sweden on September 12, 2018. (Photo courtesy: Jeremy Russell)

(TibetanReview.net, Sep15, 2018) – The Dalai Lama’s suggestion Sep 12 in Sweden’s third largest city of Malmo that refugees fleeing their countries due to fear for their lives must be helped with relief, rehabilitation and training but should eventually be able to return to help rebuild their homeland has struck the wrong chord in certain quarters as suggested by various news reports.

Speaking at a press conference, the Dalai Lama has said, according to an official report on his visit, “Recently large numbers of refugees, many from the Middle East, have fled to Europe in fear for their lives. They have been given shelter and support, but the long-term solution should include providing training and education, particularly for their children, so they can return to rebuild their own countries when peace has been restored.”

Based on the above remark, some news reports have accused the Dalai Lama of insisting that the refugees ‘must’ return home, that Europe belongs ‘only’ to Europeans, which is not exactly what he did say or imply.

The Tibetan leader, himself almost a lifetime refugee, shocked the country that during the 2015 migrant crisis took in the most refugees per capita by saying that refugees coming to Europe will have to return home someday, reported sputniknews.com Sep 14. The Dalai Lama says Europe belongs to Europeans, sparking debate on social media, with some labelling the spiritual leader a “bigot”, reported newshub.co.nz Sep 14. Likewise, newsweek.com reported Sep 13 that the Dalai Lama—oft-considered the embodiment of peace and tolerance—has suggested Europe should only be for Europeans, telling refugees to go home and rebuild their own countries. And thesun.co.uk reported Sep 13 that the Dalai Lama had said refugees should return home and help rebuild their countries as “Europe belongs to Europeans”.

The Dalai Lama has, of course, never given up his home to return home with fellow-Tibetan exiles and has proposed a middle way solution of autonomy for Tibet under Chinese rule to realize his dream.

The sputniknews.com report said the Dalai Lama’s remark had caused strong reactions in the Nordic country, which prides itself on its humanitarian efforts. And it cited Rakel Chukri, the cultural editor of the daily newspaper Sydsvenskan, as calling the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize winner a “happy pensioner with rock stardom,” blaming his “square view of identity” on the fact that he himself has been a refugee for almost 60 years.

The Sputniknews.com report also noted, however, that in an opinion piece published by national broadcaster SVT, Katrin Goldstein-Kyaga, Tibet researcher and professor emerita at Stockholm University, had referred to the likelihood of the Dalai Lama’s statement being misinterpreted by the “far-right”, which has been gaining popularity for their anti-immigrant stand recently. She has also pointed out that his entire worldview as an almost lifelong refugee revolved around the idea of return.

Indeed, unlike Tibetans in general who have continued to escape their Chinese occupied homeland since 1959, most other refugees flee their country to the West for good. They only make return visits eventually, if at all, with the citizenship of another country. And their hosting countries also do not expect that the refugees should or would want to return to the land of their forefathers in any significant number. Rather, the hosting countries invariably provide them permanent residency, with path to citizenship, a far cry from the experience of the Tibetans living in India, Nepal and Bhutan.

In India, Tibetans who arrived in the country in 1959 and their successive generations are expected to return to Tibet, with their legal status being that of foreigners with temporary, periodically renewed, residence permits given on humanitarian ground. In Nepal, Tibetan refugees are not given any sort of documentation, including even a birth certificate for those born in the country.


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