By: ZOE CHONG
In 2007, Prime Minister Stephen Harper granted landed immigrant status to 1,000 displaced Tibetans from northeastern India, as requested by the Dalai Lama, but has yet to issue any financial support for arrivals.
The Tibetan Resettlement Project Ottawa has taken on the responsibility of supporting the 90 Tibetans resettling in Ottawa between 2013-2016.
The organization provides accommodation, food and clothing for up to a year after the Tibetans’ arrival.
“We’re going to try to establish them in Ottawa as a community … putting them in the same part of town if at all possible,” said Cornelius von Baeyer, the co-chair of the resettlement project.
The project will provide the Tibetans with support systems to ensure they have a smooth transition into Canada, von Baeyer said.
The project has appointed mentors for each of the individuals and families arriving, to help them integrate into the Canadian lifestyle, and assist them with everyday activities such as transportation and getting clothes.
The group of volunteers is made up of local Ottawa residents, both Tibetan and Canadian, said Valerie Swinton, communications chair of the project.
“We’re trying to have a really good representation of the Tibetan community with us on this,” Swinton said.
The Indian government, through the Dalai Lama, has welcomed and supported over 100,000 Tibetan displaced persons over the years, but they are still considered stateless.
The Tibetan Government in Exile, formally known as the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) was established by the Dalai Lama to resettle Tibetan refugees and restore freedom in Tibet.
The CTA has been preparing the Tibetans in India with questionnaires, information sessions and language classes before they arrive in Canada.
The 1,000 Tibetans set to come to Canada over the next three years come from the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. The Dalai Lama has described this particular state as having especially difficult living conditions, according to von Baeyer.
It’s “among the hardest hit” Tibetan communities, with inadequate infrastructure systems, said von Baeyer.
Youth seeking secondary schooling have to go to boarding schools far away from home, without seeing their parents for months, von Baeyer explained. He added that secondary schooling is simply not available inside many rural Tibetan villages.
The Tibetan Resettlement Project Ottawa works under its parent organization, Project Tibet Society, who overlooks the resettlement effort across Canada.
The co-sponsor of the project, the Catholic Centre for Immigrants, deals with legal paperwork for the Tibetans, assisting them with employment, healthcare and drivers licenses.
Von Baeyer said this project is a concrete effort that will help establish a thriving Tibetan community in Canada, where Tibetans have access to education, healthcare, and the freedom to practice their religious and cultural traditions.
“There’s this idea that Tibetans have to learn to live as Tibetan as they can but outside of Tibet,” said von Baeyer. “And they’ve been having to do that now for 40 years, most of that time in India. They are now trying to create larger and more meaningful communities in many other places.”
The first group of Tibetans is due to arrive in early 2014.
Von Baeyer plans to make a big event out of their arrival. “I think that would be very very meaningful for the people coming – that they’re not alone and this is a community welcoming them and asking them to create their community.”