Cablegate: Prm Das Robinson Discusses Status of Tibetan, Sri

DE RUEHNE #1955/01 2650249
O 220249Z SEP 09



E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) PRM DAS David Robinson held meetings with
representatives from the Dalai Lama's Office, the
Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), Catholic Relief
Services' (CRS), and the United Nations High
Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) during his September
4th visit to New Delhi. During these meetings, MEA
informed DAS Robinson of plans to issue biometric
identity cards to newly-arrived Tibetan students, monks,
and nuns and to impose new limitations on all new
Tibetan arrivals. Also, CRS shared information on
comings and goings at Tamil Nadu camps for Sri Lankan
refugees, and UNHCR described their constrained
activities in India. End Summary.

Tibetans: CTA Wants Pilgrim Stays Extended, MEA Does Not

2. (SBU) DAS Robinson discussed Tibetan refugee issues
with Tempa Tsering, the Dalai Lama's representative to
the Government of India (GOI). Tsering said the Central
Tibetan Administration (CTA) was concerned that Tibetan
newcomers categorized as pilgrims were only given
permission to remain in India for 90 days. Tsering
explained that the GOI accepted only three categories of
newcomers, all of whom arrived via the UNHCR-managed
transit process through Nepal. The categories were
pilgrims, students, and monks/nuns seeking further
training. Tsering acknowledged that the 'pilgrim'
category was a catchall encompassing everyone --
including adults beyond school age and families -- who
did not fit into the other two groups. He noted that
since March 2008, the number of new arrivals had fallen
dramatically and that most who did manage to leave Tibet
now no longer wished to return. Tsering said the CTA
had asked India to agree to renew the pilgrims' 90-day
entry permits but that India had not yet agreed.
Tsering said that, although India had been a "kind and
generous host," opportunities for Tibetans were very
limited. He added that the pressure to go abroad was
causing some Tibetans to resort to "unethical" actions
and that this sort of behavior was contrary to the
essence of being Tibetan. He said that opportunities
to go abroad legally were very important to the Tibetan

GOI Imposing New Requirements

3. (SBU) During a meeting with Sanjay Panda, MEA's
director for East Asia with responsibility for Tibetan
refugee issues, he confirmed that the MEA had no
intention of agreeing to extend the pilgrims' 90-day
permits. He explained that the GOI was concerned that
the Tibetans were spreading out all over India, rather
than remaining clustered in settlements as the
government had always intended. Panda said the GOI had
just taken a decision to limit this trend and planned
to require new arrivals staying longer than 90 days
(students and monks/nuns) to register on arrival and
renew the registration annually. Panda said that
within a year, the MEA plans to issue biometric identity
cards to newly-arrived Tibetans which will indicate
status as a student or monk/nun seeking further
training. The card will state the completion date for
the education or religious training -- with the
expectation that the Tibetan would depart India by
that date. (Comment: India only formally acknowledges
Tibetans who arrived before 1987 as asylees and -- at
least for the record -- has labeled everyone else as
being temporarily present for religious purposes.
Although unlikely to be enforced, this new decision
reflects India's discomfort with the evolving nature
of the Tibetan presence in India. The decision may
also result in greater vulnerability for Tibetans at
a time when conditions in Tibet are not conducive to
return. End comment.)

Third-Country Resettlement

4. (SBU) Panda also confirmed that the GOI would
happily support third-country resettlement for Tibetans
with refugee identity cards -- but for no one else.

NEW DELHI 00001955 002 OF 003

Panda declared that India had a long-term understanding
with resettlement countries that India would not permit
undocumented Tibetans or those with temporary status
(students, pilgrims, and monks/nuns) to be resettled
from India.

Citizenship: Not a Possibility

5. (SBU) When queried as to whether the GOI envisioned
a path to citizenship for Tibetans, if only for the
long-stayers, many of whom are now well into their third
generation in India, Panda's response was an emphatic
no. He said that there had been a window of opportunity
before 2002 for those who arrived by 1987, but that the
window had shut and would not reopen. DAS Robinson
asked if this didn't keep Tibetans from participating
fully in Indian society and limited their access to
certain jobs and higher education. Panda confirmed that
this was true but appeared indifferent. (Note: Panda
appeared even more dismissive of the Chin, who have a
substantial presence in Mizoram, as well as New Delhi.
Panda said the Chin were not really refugees, they were
not "conscious" of government and simply had no concept
of borders. End note.)

Sri Lankans: Arrivals Continue, Few Returns

6. (SBU) India has provided sanctuary for many years to
about 78,000 Tamil refugees housed in camps in Tamil
Nadu. DAS Robinson met with CRS Country Director John
Shumlansky and the CRS manager of a PRM-funded pilot
project to improve housing, water and sanitation in the
camps. Due to the sensitive politics surrounding this
population -- which receives strong support from the
host state of Tamil Nadu but which is also an occasional
irritant in India's relationship with Sri Lanka -- India
has strictly controlled access to the camps and enforced
curfews and other limitations on the population. India
has only permitted international NGOs, including CRS, to
operate in the camps since 2006 in the wake of the 2004
Tsunami and continues to limit access to the camps; only
one of several recent USG requests to monitor the CRS
project has been granted.

7. (SBU) CRS reported that responsibility for the camps
is divided geographically, with CRS responsible for 40
of the 113 camps. CRS said that although conditions in
the camps had improved since 2006, many aspects of the
camps still do not meet minimal international
standards. CRS said that their pilot project, briefly
delayed by bureaucratic obstacles, is now ahead of
schedule with the community center, water and sanitation
improvements expected to be completed by December.

8. (SBU) CRS said that Tamils continue to arrive from
Sri Lanka, with 663 newcomers since April 1. CRS said
that the Indian Intelligence Bureau had conducted a
survey in the camps last month and learned that, at
least so far, there was little interest in returning to
Sri Lanka. Many refugees were reportedly anxious about
the status of their property in Sri Lanka but security
issues and the problems of the IDPs in Sri Lanka weighed
against returns. The CRS project director, a veteran in
the camps, said she thought that Tamil Nadu authorities
would support but not press for returns. Interestingly,
the project director added that she thought many of the
long-staying Tamils would choose to remain in India and
that only those who had arrived since 2006 would be
anxious to return.

9. (SBU) UNHCR confirmed separately that it had assisted
with only a handful of repatriations to Sri Lanka during
the past year, but said that there is a coordination
meeting with the GOI and concerned NGOs planned for
October in anticipation of increased refugee interest
in assisted repatriation.

UNHCR and Urban Refugees

10. (SBU) UNHCR Representative in New Delhi Montserrat
Feixas Vihe informed DAS Robinson that UNHCR has no
formal status in India and that, as a result, its

NEW DELHI 00001955 003 OF 003

activities are constrained by the GOI. For example,
UNHCR is not permitted to assist the Tibetan refugee
population and is only permitted to assist with the
repatriation of Sri Lankan refugees.

11. (SBU) Feixas Vihe explained that UNHCR does provide
substantial assistance to New Delhi's large urban
refugee population, consisting of 12,000 acknowledged
refugees and about 8,000 asylum seekers -- individuals
who have not yet received status determinations by
UNHCR. She said that there had been a dramatic
increase in the number of urban refugees seeking
UNHCR's assistance recently, noting that UNHCR had
received 250 new requests for registration in March
2008 and 1,250 in March 2009. Feixas Vihe said that
although there was no legal framework in India for
UNHCR's work, the GOI gave de facto recognition to
UNHCR's status determinations and, even, of the interim
document UNHCR provides to asylum seekers pending
formal status determinations -- a process that often
takes a year or more. She reported that UNHCR just
initiated a program in July to outsource the first
stages of the registration process to an implementing
partner. UNHCR anticipates that this will help to
identify and assist vulnerable asylum seekers much
more quickly.

Focus on In-Country Assistance

12. (SBU) Feixas Vihe outlined UNHCR focuses on
projects to assist refugees find work in India's
"informal economy" and on access to Indian education and
health services. UNHCR does refer relatively small
numbers of the most vulnerable urban refugees for
third-country resettlement but plans to keep the number
small to avoid a "pull factor." UNHCR is anxious to
preserve its existing "humanitarian space" and fears
that too large a resettlement program could end GOI
acceptance of UNHCR's presence in India. DAS Robinson
probed whether UNHCR's policy limits the urban refugees
to a permanent life in India's underclass and queried,
in particular, whether it was appropriate for the
unaccompanied minors in the urban refugee population.

Comment: Much Remains to Be Done

13. (SBU) DAS Robinson's meetings in New Delhi
highlighted the challenges that many refugees living in
India face. UNHCR is understaffed to meet the needs of
the urban refugee population and its decision to
outsource registration, one of UNHCR's basic functions,
reflects this. Although UNHCR has found innovative ways
to assist the urban population, it appears resigned to
the absence of legal rights for refugees in India.
Striving for a legal framework for all refugees in India
should remain an important part of USG communications
with appropriate Indian government and NGO
counterparts. We should also continue to search for
avenues that increase monitoring access to the Sri
Lankan camps. END COMMENT.

This cable has been cleared by PRM DAS David Robinson.

© Scoop Media

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