World Refugee Day and the Chinese forced occupation of Tibet

According to data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 27.1 million people worldwide are refugees. World Refugee Day, celebrated annually by the United Nations on June 20, is a day to commemorate the strength and courage of refugees around the world. They are people who live in difficult circumstances, having been forced to flee their country of origin because of conflict, war, persecution or terror.

Refugees lucky enough to have access to resources have made their way into different fields like science, psychology, music, film, literature, sports, etc. Bob Marley, Freddie Mercury, Sigmund Freud, Victor Hugo, Fritz Lang, Albert Einstein and the Dalai Lama are some of the well-known refugees around the world.

Amid the refugee crisis plaguing the world today, the plight of Tibetan refugees should not be forgotten. The forced Chinese occupation of Tibet in the 1950s brought immense suffering to Tibetans, forcing many to flee their homeland and seek refuge in neighboring India, Nepal and Bhutan. . But why and how were they driven out of their homeland where they once lived harmoniously?

In the context of the current global refugee crisis, the plight of Tibetan refugees must not be lost sight of. China’s forced occupation of Tibet in the 1950s caused immense suffering to Tibetans, forcing many to flee their country and seek refuge in neighboring India, Nepal and Bhutan. . But why and how were they forced to leave their homeland where they once lived in harmony?

China’s forced occupation of Tibet

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama seized power in Tibet in 1950. Due to isolation, lack of support for Tibet from the international community and the imminent threat of a prolonged invasion of the Tibetan capital from Lhasa by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the 17-point agreement was signed under threat from the Chinese government. Later, in March 1959, a national Tibetan uprising took place, in which thousands of Tibetans from the three provinces (U-Tsang, Kham, Amdo) gathered to demand Tibetan independence. Violence ensued and the uprising was harshly suppressed, with many casualties. His Holiness the Dalai Lama and 80,000 Tibetans escaped from their homeland. The then Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, granted His Holiness asylum in India.

Until 1949, Tibet was an independent Himalayan nation with little contact with the rest of the world. It existed as a rich cultural storehouse – a unifying theme among Tibetans – much like their own language, literature, art and worldview developed by living at high altitudes, in harsh conditions, in balance with their environment.

The totalitarian communist state of China began its invasion of Tibet in 1949, reaching full occupation of the country in 1959. Since then, more than 1.2 million people, or 20% of the national population of six million inhabitants, died as a direct result. of the Chinese invasion and occupation. Furthermore, more than 99% of Tibet’s six thousand monasteries, temples and religious shrines have been looted or decimated, resulting in the destruction of hundreds of thousands of Buddhist scriptures.

Over the past 70 decades, political repression, social discrimination, economic marginalization, environmental destruction and cultural assimilation have continued, particularly due to Chinese migration to Tibet, which fuels intense resentment. among the inhabitants of occupied Tibet.

Life in exile and the establishment of a Tibetan government in exile

Many Tibetans had followed in His Holiness’ footsteps and sought refuge in India. The onerous trip to India was mentally and physically vexing. Most of them had to leave behind their homes, loved ones and possessions that they once treasured deeply. In a country that was foreign to them, the Tibetan refugees felt alone in their struggle. They had neither money nor accommodation. Many lived in refugee camps and engaged in road construction work with very little pay. With the longing for their homeland lingering in their hearts, the only thing many refugees found a semblance of their homeland was the sky and the ground.

On April 29, 1959, His Holiness the Dalai Lama established the Tibetan Exile Administration in the hill station of Mussoorie in northern India. Named the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, it is the continuation of the government of independent Tibet. In May 1960 the CTA was transferred to Dharamshala, HP, India.

The Tibetan people, both inside and outside Tibet, regard the CTA as their sole and legitimate representative. This and the administration’s commitment to truth, non-violence and genuine democracy as inviolable principles means that it is now increasingly recognized by parliaments and the general public around the world as the representative legitimate and authentic of the Tibetan people.

Tibetan refugees around the world

The cultural genocide of Tibetans who were denied the freedom to practice their religion, their culture and the affirmation of their identity, caused them to flee and settle in the neighboring countries of India, Nepal and Bhutan. Their migration continues even today as Tibetans are tortured by the CCP. The Tibetan diaspora is also found in the United States of America, Canada, United Kingdom, Switzerland, Norway, France, Taiwan and Australia. The exiled Tibetan population numbers over 130,000 people, 80,000 of whom are based in India.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama – One of the most famous refugees in the world

After escaping from Tibet, traversing the rugged terrain and braving the brutal cold of the Himalayas to take refuge in India. During these years, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who came to India as a refugee, became the face of the Tibetan cause and worked to garner international support for his homeland, Tibet. His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama was only 15 when he assumed the reins of power in Tibet. Loaded with heavy responsibilities at such a young age, he had to make the difficult choice to leave his native country and seek refuge in India. His Holiness’ flight from Tibet marked the beginning of a new era in Tibetan history. Under the influence of His Holiness who always pleaded for non-violence and peace, the cause and the problem of the Tibetans have been highlighted on the international scene.

Over the past 60 years, Tibetan refugees have lived in different parts of India, and with the support of the Indian government, Tibetans have been able to revive and practice their rich heritage, culture and religion, which has been and continue to be suppressed by the Chinese in their homeland. His Holiness and the Tibetan refugee community have repeatedly expressed their desire and aspiration to return to their homeland, the Land of Snow.

World Refugee Day 2022 is about treating refugees with dignity, whoever they are. Wherever they come from, they must be welcomed and protected whenever they are forced to flee their country of origin in all circumstances, because everyone has the right to seek safety. On this World Refugee Day, we remember and honor the struggle of Tibetans for the freedom of their homeland that has lasted for more than six decades.

Michael A. Bynum