A sharp decline has been recorded in the number of Tibetan refugees in India — from 1.5 lakh to 85,000 in the last seven years — with a large number either migrating to the US or returning to China/Tibet, according to the government’s advisor on Tibet Affairs Amitabh Mathur.
“Their numbers could be approximately 85,000, but we will get the exact figure once all of them are registered online. In the past two years, the government has simplified the process and made everything accessible on the internet,” Mathur told The Indian Express.
As per a 2011 reply by then MoS (Home) M Ramachandran before Parliament, the number of Tibetan refugees staying in 45 settlement camps across “the country was 1.5 lakh”. The fall in numbers, officials said, could be due to various factors including absence of a national refugee policy.
“Tibetans are recognised as ‘foreigners’, not refugees, because of which they cannot own any property here, neither can they apply for government jobs. After 2014, only qualified professionals from among the Tibetan refugees are permitted to take jobs in private and non-government sectors,” said an MHA official.
Speaking to The Indian Express, spokesperson for Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), Sonam Dagpo said, “The number of Tibetans going abroad has increased. The birth rate among Tibetans (in India) has also declined. However, Tibetans in exile in India are close to 1 lakh. Those who may have taken Indian citizenship may be less than 100 in number.”
According to MHA’s 2009 figures, the major concentration of Tibetan refugees is in Karnataka (44,468), Himachal Pradesh (21,980), Arunachal Pradesh (7,530), Uttarakhand (8,545), West Bengal (5,785) and Jammu and Kashmir (6,920). Tibetan refugees began pouring into India in the wake of the flight of the Dalai Lama from Tibet in 1959.
Mathur, who took over as interlocutor in 2015, said the government had introduced measures to “smoothen” the stay of Tibetans in India. “Tibetan migrants who are registered online are granted residential certificate for 5 years and such certificates may be renewed for five years on each occasion as and when applicable. For visits abroad, one-year multiple entry return visa is being issued by FRRO. In case migrants are shifting, they may intimate online, avoiding the need for visits to the centre and delays in manual transfer of registration,” he said.
When asked about granting Indian passports to Tibetan refugees on court’s direction, Mathur said, “If they become Indian citizens, they will not be entitled to benefits of relief and rehabilitation.”
The government has listed six conditions for Tibetans (by birth) to obtain Indian citizenship.