The first of 50 displaced Tibetans will arrive at Victoria International Airport tomorrow night to start new lives, but advocates are struggling to find enough local sponsors to meet demand.
The group is part of 1,000 Tibetans authorized to settle in Canada from Arunachal Pradesh, a remote area of Northeast India, after a direct appeal from His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
“We don’t have any government funds, so this is really based on how much money we can raise and sponsors we can find,” said Tsering Dolma, treasurer with the Project Tibet Society, which is co-ordinating the immigration effort.
Canadian immigration laws require new immigrants to seek out a Canadian citizen or permanent resident as a sponsor. The sponsor is responsible for that person’s well-being for a period of up to a year upon arrival.
In 2010, Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney committed to welcoming 1,000 displaced Tibetans to Canada over a five-year period.
“We’re trying to get about 50 Tibetans on the Island,” Dolma said. “Tibetans in exile have never had any status in India. They’re stateless – especially the people coming from this Arunachal Pradesh, there are no opportunities up there.”
The first wave of Tibetans will arrive over the next six months in Ontario and B.C., including five people in Greater Victoria. The first two people arrive at Victoria International Airport on Saturday night, while three others plan to arrive in January and February.
Dolma said she’s excited to welcome new members to the Tibetan community in Greater Victoria, which she pegs at only about 20 people.
“We’re a very small community, but we’re a strong group,” she said.
The society is working with the Anglican Diocese of B.C. and Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria to sort out necessary paperwork and find potential sponsors. Anyone interested in becoming a sponsor or learning more about the project can visit projecttibetsociety.ca or call 778-440-4683.
With an average elevation of 4,900 metres, Tibet is the highest plateau region on Earth. The contested region, part of western China, has been led in exile since 1950 by the Dalai Lama in India. An estimated 69,000 Tibetans have fled the region since 1987 to settlements in mostly India and Nepal. Tibetans have always asserted their independence from China.