Thursday, 12 November 2009

Where is justice?

1.2 million Tibetans dead. 125,000 counted in exile by the 1996 census. 2,500 seek asylum every year. Thousands suffer malnutrition, depression, anxiety and persecution syndrome. Thousands never see their home or their families ever again. Thousands die in exile because they never recover. Thousands die because the living conditions in exile aren’t adequate enough.

How many more have to die? How many more need to suffer before something is done? Where is human justice?

I’m not a political person. I never have been. Yet, I will stand up and be a voice when I think something needs to be heard.

The invasion and illegal annexation of Tibet began in 1949. You can read the full story here:

Since then, Tibetans have fled mainly to Nepal, India and Bhutan in search of asylum. Although, there are circa 9,000 refugees living in the United States, 8,000 living in Switzerland and a few thousand scattered throughout other parts of Europe and Canada. However, recent census figures are unavailable at this time. (Macalester College)

This year, I visited Nepal and was fortunate enough to spend a lot of time with several hundreds of Tibetan refugees. I even visited one of the Tibetan refugee camps just outside Pokhara. Believe me when I say, the Tibetan people are beautiful, kind, loving and peaceful people. They open their doors, their hearts and their homes to strangers. They have little or nothing to give and yet they give everything.

Despite their ordeal, they are not driven by vendetta, resentment or hatred. They are not motivated by capitalism or materialism. They pray for their enemy. In fact, despite the invasion of Tibet and the Chinese occupation, they don’t even consider China their enemy. During one of the retreats I took part in, I was told to pray for China. It was I, as a Westerner, who had to confront that part of me, which unlike them, was reluctant to forgive and forget. Tibetan people resolve matters with loving words, with prayers and with hope in their heart.

Although the Tibetan refugee camps are well organised with small handicraft factories, a prayer hall and basic living quarters for everyone; they are not really a place to call home.

The particular refugee camp I visited was founded in 1962 and yet the people who live there are still not officially recognised by the Nepalese government. To this day, most of the Tibetan people, living there, have no citizenship. They are no longer Tibetans because Tibet is now Chinese. They are not recognised by Nepal because they are asylum seekers. So, they belong to no country.

Citizenship would mean the possibility of a legal job. It would mean being able to travel backwards and forwards to Tibet and visit their family. Yet, it costs Tibetan refugees a tremendous amount of money to get a citizenship of Nepal. A monk friend of mine recently told me it was around 800 Sterling Pounds - if they're lucky enough to get one. Considering the monthly income is around 50 British Pounds – for some not even that - it’s an unthinkable amount of money to spend. So, they're forced to decide between living essentials or citizenship.

They mainly rely on the sales of handcraft items to survive. Monks and nuns don’t earn anything at all. They rely on the kindness and support of donations and sponsorship to survive; and the willingness of monasteries and nunneries to look after them.

During the low tourist season or during times of recession in Europe (like now) - people aren't spending much money - so many Tibetan families barely manage to make ends meet. This is something that I feel wouldn't necessarily happen if the Tibetan people were in their own country in "real" jobs - (whatever they may be defined as.)

While I was there, a Tibetan woman put all her pride aside and asked me for my clothes. She also asked if I had any sheets or other items I didn’t need. She wasn't a beggar. She was a beautiful, polite lady selling jewellery on the streets who was just trying to provide for her family in the best way any mother or grandmother would.

If a family member becomes ill, the medical bills put an enormous strain on the whole family’s total monthly expenditure.

We can say that poverty is everywhere in the world. I know this, but this is a poverty that could be avoided if the people of Tibet were allowed to have a place to belong to - a citizenship - an employment.

Worst of all, where is their voice? It seems that every time someone speaks of the Tibetan situation it’s pushed under the carpet. In fact, one day in Nepal, four of us went down to join a protest march for free Tibet. By the time we got there, everyone had been arrested and thrown in prison.

Now, President Obama is going to visit China and the Tibetan situation isn’t even on his agenda; despite his closeness to His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

What kind of human rights is that? Where's the freedom of expression? I believe everyone should be allowed to have a voice.

Like I said before, I am on the side of the people - not governments and politics. I believe in human beings and their rights to the basic human necessities of life.
So, I ask: “Where is justice?”

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