RIC Query - India (30 May 2003)

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Response to Information Request Number:IND03002.ZNY
Date:May 30, 2003
Subject:India: Information on Tibetan Refugees and Settlements
From:BCIS Resource Information Center
Keywords:India / Convention refugees / Country of origin / Freedom of movement / Host country / Immigration policy / Nationality / Non-refoulement / Refugee protection / Resettlement / Social integration / Travel documents / Vulnerable groups




Are Tibetan refugees in India provided with any documents? Provide information on Tibetan settlements in India, including how they are run, how refugees reach the settlements and are registered, and how long refugees can remain in the settlements after they arrive. Provide the names and locations of Tibetan settlements in India.



Tibetan refugees have settled in India by the tens of thousands since 1959, when the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and many of his followers fled to northern India to escape a Chinese crackdown (Representative 20 Mar 2003). India hosted some 110,000 Tibetan refugees as of the end of 2001 (U.S. DOS 4 Mar 2002). The U.S. Committee for Refugees reports that ¿[t]he number of Tibetan refugees in India fluctuates because of the arrival of more than 1,000 refugees from Tibet each year and the return of unknown numbers to Tibet¿ (USCR 2002). Many of the early refugees eventually put down new roots in agricultural and handicrafts settlements established mainly in the 1960s and 1970s in southern India and other parts of the country. Because the settlements have limited agricultural land, more recent Tibetan refugees have settled mainly in the northern Indian hill station of Dharamsala, the Dalai Lama¿s home-in-exile (Representative 20 Mar 2003). Tibetans do not enjoy the same rights as Indian citizens, such as formal participation in Indian politics or the ability to carry a legal Indian passport, but are free to work and own property in India (IRB-RD Sep 1999).


Tibetans traveling to India via Nepal generally lack valid travel documents, and most are unable to obtain legal residence permits once they reach India. Most enter Nepal from Tibet through isolated mountain passes and lack Nepalese visas or any official travel papers (TIN 15 Feb 2002).

Once they reach Kathmandu, Nepal, most Tibetans are eligible to receive a card issued by the local office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) that lists their personal details and states that, ¿the holder of this card is a person of concern to UNHCR.¿ The card does not bear the UNHCR¿s logo or contain UNHCR contact information (TIN 2 Jul 2002). In practice, these cards often are not available, and most Tibetan arrivals do not even know to ask for them, according to the executive director of the London-based Tibet Information Network (TIN) (Executive Director 17 Mar 2003).

According to the vice-president of the California-based Tibet Justice Center:

¿The ¿of concern¿ interview is not a prima facie refugee-status determination, except to the extent that it screens out persons who are not, in fact, Tibetan. It¿s very pro forma and (deliberately) vague¿ (Vice President 19 Mar 2003).

Nepalese authorities want Tibetans who are processed by the UNHCR to be out of the country within two weeks. In practice, most such Tibetans remain in Nepal only until there are enough of them to fill one of the buses that are used to transport them to the Dalai Lama¿s home-in-exile at Dharamsala, India. This wait can take anywhere from one week to several months. The departing Tibetans receive a group exit permit from the [Nepalese] Department of Immigration that is taken from them when they cross the border with India. This means that most Tibetans enter India without any valid papers (Vice President 19 Mar 2003).

For more information on the situation of Tibetans in Nepal, see Response to Information Request NPL03001.ZNY, NEPAL: INFORMATION ON TIBETANS IN NEPAL, 26 March 2003, and TIBET¿S STATELESS NATIONALS: TIBETAN REFUGEES IN NEPAL, published in June 2002 as a result of a fact-finding mission to Nepal by the Tibet Justice Center, available at http://www.tibetjustice.org/reports/.

Once in India, newly-arrived Tibetans generally are no longer able to legally obtain residence permits, which were at one time given to Tibetan refugees ¿as a matter of course,¿ according to a representative of the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) (Representative 20 Mar 2003). Tibetan newcomers generally must go through a ¿time consuming and arduous¿ process in order to obtain residence permits legally, though they can get fraudulent permits fairly easily (Representative 20 Mar 2003). Legally obtained Indian residence permits are now only automatically available to children of Tibetans who arrived in India before 1979. The vice-president of the Tibet Justice Center stated that it is his understanding that the Indian government stopped issuing residence permits to Tibetan newcomers in about 1979. He had heard anecdotal reports that Tibetans sometimes obtain permits through bribery or through falsifying date of birth or parentage (in order to pass themselves off as children of Tibetans who entered India before issuance of resident permits to arriving Tibetans ended) (Vice President 30 May 2003).

Tibetan refugees who have Indian residence permits must renew them every year, according to a liaison officer at the Office of Tibet in New York, which represents the Dalai Lama in the Americas (Liaison Officer 19 Mar 2003). Tibetans normally do not have trouble renewing their permits, although renewal is entirely at the discretion of the Indian Government (Liaison Officer 19 Mar 2003). The vice-president of the Tibet Justice Center said ¿it is important to note¿ that Tibetans who arrived in India before 1979, ¿though tolerated, lack any legally enforceable rights or privileges¿ (Vice President 30 May 2003).

The following information was provided by the U.S. Department of State to the Canadian government in 1999 and applies to the children of Tibetan refugees who entered India before the Indian government discontinued granting legal residence to all Tibetans newly arriving in India. According to the U.S. Department of State:

¿Beginning at age 18, [eligible] Tibetan refugees in India receive a Residential Certificate Issued by the Home Ministry through the District Superintendent of Police in the locality where the individual resides. The certificates are valid for one year and renewable. Tibetans must carry the Residential Certificate when travelling within India. For international travel, Tibetan refugees resident in India use an 'Identity Certificate' issued by the Home Ministry valid for two years and renewable. When stamped with a 'no objection to return to India stamp' (NORI) these documents permit the bearer to travel internationally and to return to India. Our understanding is that the Government issues NORI stamps after clearance with the government of the state in which the individual lives. Refusal to issue such stamps is rare, although bureaucratic delays have sometimes resulted in de facto refusals¿ (IRB-RD Sep 1999).


Each Tibetan refugee settlement in India is headed by a settlement officer appointed by the Central Tibetan Administration. The Central Tibetan Administration is the network of Tibetan-run agencies in Dharamsala that effectively functions as a government-of-Tibet-in-exile. The number two official in each settlement is a camp leader elected by the refugees (Liaison Officer 19 Mar 2003).

While the Indian Government has ultimate authority over the settlements and takes charge in any criminal matters, in practice the Tibetan administrators work to maintain good relations with local communities and generally are given a free hand to run the day-to-day affairs of the settlements (Liaison Officer 19 Mar 2003).


According to the ICT representative, Tibetans who reach India from Nepal are registered by Indian authorities at the border (Representative 20 Mar 2003). Very few Tibetans who have reached India in recent years have gone to the several dozen Tibetan settlements in that country. The reason is a shortage of land. The settlements are primarily agricultural, with farmland allotted to individual families, and there is not enough land to accommodate new arrivals. As a result, most new arrivals remain in Dharamsala. The exceptions tend to be newcomers who are able to enter settlements based on family ties, and monks and nuns who join Tibetan monasteries and nunneries located in settlements (Representative 20 Mar 2003).


Tibetans who live in settlements in India generally can remain in them indefinitely. However, Tibetan refugees are considered foreigners and generally have trouble obtaining Indian citizenship and the full legal rights that this brings (Liaison Officer 19 Mar 2003).


Tibetan refugees who live in Dharamsala or other towns, rather than in settlements, often depend on stipends provided by the welfare office of the Central Tibetan Administration. Many get odd jobs or work in guesthouses, restaurants, or other service industries (Representative 20 Mar 2003).

Anecdotal evidence suggests that at least some Tibetan refugees are in difficult financial straits. ¿Many Tibetans in India are self-sufficient, but some, including elderly persons, female-headed families, and recent arrivals, must struggle to survive,¿ according to the U.S. Committee for Refugees 2002 report on refugees worldwide (USCR 2002).

The Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board, Research Directorate cites information provided by the U.S. Department of State in August 1998:

¿[Tibetans residing in India] do not have the rights of Indian citizens such as voting or carrying an Indian passport but they are free to work on [sic] the Indian economy or in the numerous Tibetan settlements established by the Indian Government. They can marry Indian citizens, although few do¿ (IRB-RD Sep 1999).

¿Most Tibetans who do work are small shopkeepers, foodstand owners and peddlers. They are subject to the same rules governing the purchase of property as are other non-Indian citizens... [and] they...are known to own land and houses in India. Most Indian citizens are provided with food ration cards which allow them to purchase government-subsidized necessities at greatly reduced cost. Tibetan refugees also receive ration cards, usually from the governments of the states in which they reside. Village health centers run by State governments and subsidized by the Indian Health Minister also provide free health care to rural Indians. Tibetan refugees can avail themselves of this free health care, although the demand for medications frequently exceeds available supplies. Health care providers generally require sub-rosa [privately negotiated] payment of some sort¿ (IRB-RD Sep 1999).

¿While there have been isolated anti-Tibetan incidents (usually in the form of attacks by Indian criminals), Tibetan refugees in India are generally able to lead productive, peaceful lives in India. The Government of India does not harass or mistreat Tibetans, nor does it threaten to return Tibetans to Tibet¿ (IRB-RD Sep 1999).

Recent annual reports on human rights practices in India do not report human rights abuses against Tibetans in India in 2001 or 2002 (AI 2002; HRW 2002; U.S. DOS 4 Mar 2002).


Bir Tibetan Society (Bir, Himalchal Pradesh) Changthang Tibetan Settlement (Choglanmar, Jammu and Kashmir) Choepheling Tibetan Settlement (Miao, Arunachal Pradesh) Dhargyeling Tibetan Settlement (Tezu, Arunachal Pradesh) Dhondenling Tibetan Settlement (Kollegal, Karnataka) Dhondupling Tibetan Settlement (Clement Town, Dehra Dun District, Uttar Pradesh) Dicky Larsoe Tibetan Settlement (Bylakuppe, Karnataka) Dickyiling Tibetan Settlement (Sahastradhara, Dehra Dun District, Uttar Pradesh) Doeghu Yugyalling Tibetan Settlement (Herbertpur, Dehra Dun District, Uttar Pradesh) Doeguling Tibetan Settlement (Mundgod, Karnataka) Kham Kathok Tibetan Settlement (Sataun, Himalchal Pradesh) Kunphenling Tibetan Settlement (Ravangla, Sikkim) Lama Hatta Tibetan Settlement (Darjeeling, West Bengal) Lingtsang Tibetan Settlement (Manduwala, Dehra Dun District, Uttar Pradesh) Lugsung Samdupling Tibetan Settlement (Bylakuppe, Karnataka) Norgyeling Tibetan Settlement (Bhandara, Maharashtra) Phendeyling Tibetan Settlement (Mainpat, Surguja District, Madhya Pradesh) Phuntsokling Tibetan Handicraft Center (Dalhousie, Himalchal Pradesh) Phuntsokling Tibetan Settlement (Chandragiri, Orissa) Rabgyeling Tibetan Settlement (Gurupura, Karnataka) Sakya Tibetan Society (Puruwala, Sirmur District, Himalchal Pradesh) Sonamling Tibetan Settlement (Choglamsar, Jammu and Kashmir) Tashiling Tibetan Camp (Seogi Colony, Pandoh, Mandi District, Himalchal Pradesh) Tenzingang Tibetan Settlement (Bomdila, Arunachal Pradesh) Tibetan Bonpo Foundation (Dolanji, Solan District, Himalchal Pradesh) Tibetan Cholsum Industrial Society (Paonta Sahib, Himalchal Pradesh) Tibetan Crafts Community (Tashi Jong, Paprola, Kangra District, Himalchal Pradesh) Tibetan Handicraft Center (McLeodganj, Dharamsala, Himalchal Pradesh) Tibetan Industrial Society (Chauntra, Nangchen Division, Himalchal Pradesh) Tibetan Khampa Industrial Society (Bir, Himalchal Pradesh) Tibetan Refugee Cooperative Collective Farming Society (Sonada, Darjeeling, West Bengal) Tibetan Refugee Self-Help Handicraft Center (Darjeeling, West Bengal) Tibetan Refugee Self-Help Handicraft Society (Shimla, Himalchal Pradesh) Tibetan Taopon Gapa Welfare Society (Kumrao, Himalchal Pradesh) Tibetan Women's Center (Rajpur, Uttar Pradesh) Source: GOT

This response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the RIC within time constraints. This response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.


Amnesty International (AI). REPORT 2002. ¿India¿ (2002), /http://web.amnesty.org/web/ar2002.nsf/asa/india!Open [Accessed 26 Mar 2003]

Executive Director. Tibet Information Network (TIN). Telephone interview (London: 17 Mar 2003).

Government of Tibet (GOT). Department of Home, Central Tibetan Administration of H.H. The Dalai Lama, Dharamsala. http://www.tibet.com/Govt/home.html [Accessed 20 Mar 2003]

Human Rights Watch (HRW). WORLD REPORT 2003. ¿India¿ (2003), http://hrw.org/wr2k3/asia6.html [Accessed 26 Mar 2003]

Immigration and Refugee Board, Research Directorate (IRB-RD). CHINA/INDIA: INFORMATION FROM THE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF STATE REGARDING TIBETANS IN INDIA (Ottawa: Sep 1999), http://www.irb.gc.ca/cgi-bin/foliocgi.exe/refinfo_e/ [Accessed 25 Mar 2003]

Liaison Officer. Office of Tibet, New York. Telephone interview (New York: 19 Mar 2003).

Representative. International Campaign for Tibet (ICT). Telephone interview (Washington, DC: 20 Mar 2003).

Tibet Information Network (TIN). ¿Tibetan Prisoners in Nepal Seek Royal Pardon,¿ News Update (15 Feb 2002), http://www.tibetinfo.net/news-updates/2002/1502.htm [Accessed 14 Mar 2003]

Tibet Information Network (TIN). ¿Two More Tibetans Arrested in Kathmandu,¿ News Update (2 Jul 2002), http://www.tibetinfo.net/news-updates/2002/0207.htm [Accessed 18 Mar 2003]7

Tibet Justice Center (TJC). TIBET¿S STATELESS NATIONALS: TIBETAN REFUGEES IN NEPAL (2002), http://www.tibetjustice.org/reports/ [Accessed 26 March 2003]

U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR). WORLD REFUGEE SURVEY 2002. ¿India¿ (2002), http://www.uscr.org/world/countryrpt/scasia/2002/india.cfm [Accessed 18 Mar 2003]

U.S. Department of State (U.S. DOS). COUNTRY REPORTS ON HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES - 2001. ¿India¿ (4 Mar 2002), http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2001/sa/8230.htm [Accessed 26 Mar 2003]

Vice President. Tibet Justice Center. Telephone interview (New York: 19 Mar 2003, 30 May 2003).

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