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Tibetan refugees arrive in Canada from India as part of federal deal

December 16, 2013

By Gordon Hoekstra

December 15, 2013 - The first Tibetan refugees among 1,000 that will come to Canada in the next two years arrived in Vancouver over the weekend.

Canada agreed to take in the Tibetans after the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, made a direct appeal to Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2007. The Canadian government announced the immigration program in 2010.

The move has been criticized by China, which claims Tibet as one of its territories.

On Saturday, the Tibetans connecting flight from Toronto was delayed about three hours because of snow, adding to their marathon journey from Arunachal Pradesh, India. The Indian community is the seat of the Tibetan government in exile.

The 21 Tibetans were met by dozens of people at Vancouver International Airport, including local Tibetans and their sponsor families.

Despite the long journey, there were lots of happy faces among the Tibetans, which included a family with three boys, but mostly single people between 18 to 45, said Shenpenn Khymsar, a local Tibetan activist and film maker who helped welcome the newcomers.

The new immigrants are largely the children of Tibetans who fled Tibet after China took control after an invasion in 1951.

“They were travelling for more than 30 hours. It was overwhelming. They were nervous, excited, tired,” said Khymsar.

“But it was nice. They have so much support, and we are all there to help them. I am just excited for their new lives and new possibilities. They’ll be able to support their families and village back home,” he said.

The sponsors agree to provide support for the refugees for one year, providing housing and helping them integrate into Canadian life.

“If some of them are capable of being independent sooner, that’s great. They find a job, they want to move out,” said Khymsar, noting that about 75 per cent have functional English. He said they continue to look for more sponsors across Canada and for donations. To help go to

About 100,000 Tibetan refugees live in settlements across India and Nepal, says the Canada Tibet Committee, which is overseeing the immigration to Canada. About 1,000 Tibetans are estimated continue to leave the Chinese-controlled region each year, trekking across the Himalayans.

About 6,500 Tibetans live in Canada now. The new immigrants are expected to settle initially in the Toronto and Ottawa areas, and in the Vancouver and Sunshine Coast areas.

With Postmedia files.

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