The Government of Canada is facilitating the immigration of up to 1,000 Tibetans over the next five years. They are refugees who settled in the north-eastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, but have little in the way of opportunity, education or jobs. His Holiness the Dalai Lama has suggested that this group of Tibetans is the most needy, so Canada is welcoming them.
The newly incorporated Project Tibet Society (PTS) has been formed to oversee the program, and is establishing local committees across the country. Mati Bernabei is the Vancouver contact for the Project Tibet Society, and TRAS asked her the following questions:
Q. How many displaced Tibetans are in Arunachal Pradesh?
A. Around 8,000.
Q. If only 1,000 can come to Canada, what about those left behind?
A. The best hope for such an isolated community is that those who come to Canada will find work and be able to send funds home to India. This happens often in refugee situations. Extra cash will make all the difference to those who remain behind, allowing them to improve their lives and possibly move on to find better job opportunities. For the elderly and unwell, cash from abroad will mean better care and medical help.
Q. Where will the Tibetans settle in Canada?
A. Wherever there are sponsor groups or communities willing and able to provide care and support for the newcomers. Our hope is that the newcomers will settle in locations where Tibetans live already. Tibetan communities across Canada are preparing to welcome them. Some possible destinations include Toronto, Vancouver, possibly Vancouver Island, and Calgary.
Q. Has TRAS helped Tibetans in Arunachal Pradesh before?
A. Yes, through sponsorship of children, agricultural equipment, library books for the small schools that two of the settlements have, and the current project of adult literacy for the mothers in the Tuting region. Tuting is in the remote northern part of Arunachal Pradesh, where Tibetans from the Kham region of Tibet crossed the border and settled where they could, scraping a living from working on the land, as dirt poor subsistence farmers. The region is so extremely remote that the Tibetan Government-in-Exile in India only learned of their existence in the early 1990s. Now that youngsters from Tuting are in boarding schools near Dharamsala, thousands of miles away, their mothers are determined to become literate so that they can correspond with their children. But this help is a drop in the bucket compared with what’s needed.
Q. How can I help?
A. Some of you could volunteer to be part of a Group of Five to sponsor a single person or a couple or a family. Room and board will be needed for up to one year, and friendship, language support, and caring guidance through the settlement process will be invaluable. The members of each Group of Five should live near where the Tibetans settle. Anyone, whether part of a Group of Five or not, can offer valuable support financially or through donations of clothing and household items. PTS will help match people to form Groups of 5. There are a variety of possible models for the Group of Five process. It could be that members of a club or church to which you belong might apply to make up a Group of Five, or individuals might indicate to PTS their interest in being partnered with other individuals in their region to form a Group of Five. Local Tibetans will play a key role, providing not only material assistance, but also linguistic and cultural support.
Q. When are they arriving?
A. Over the next five years –the specific dates and details are not yet confirmed, but we hope that the first group of people will arrive in 2012. Before they come, however, we must get prepared. Right now, we would like anyone who is considering becoming part of a Group of Five to contact us. We will organize information sessions so that people with interest can learn more about the Group of Five process, and within the next few months we can begin the process of filling out Group of Five applications, and compiling the required documents.
Group of Five instruction guide:
E-mail email@example.com if you are interested in learning more about this exciting project!
More information about this initiative is also in the TRAS Winter 2011 and Spring 2014 newsletters: http://tras.ca/newsletter/