Since October 2007, the CTC has worked very closely with the government of Canada and with Tibetan-Canadians and their cultural associations. Countless meetings with Canadian government officials, the Indian government, and the Central Tibetan Administration have taken place over the past four years. "We want to see the project succeed. It's about those individuals to have an opportunity for new life," said Travis.
At the request of His Holiness, these 1000 Tibetans will all come from the Indian state of Arunachal. Those eligible must have been living in Arunachal Pradesh before December 18, 2010, and they must have continued living there since. They will also all be "displaced" Tibetans, meaning they came to India from Tibet during their lifetime. In an effort to keep families together, exceptions will be made for children born in India whose parents are displaced. Applicants will also need to be able to clear background checks. Travis stressed that this process would be "transparent" and that applicants absolutely must meet this criteria to be eligible.
The 1000 immigrants will come over the course of 5 years; the CTC is looking at 100-300 a year. The first group will come in 2012. Travis anticipates the group will be a mix of single individuals over 23 and families at various stages. If there are more than 1000 applicants, a lottery system will be used to ensure fairness.
According to Travis, the Tibetan settlement in Arunachal Pradesh is extremely remote and poverty-stricken, which is why His Holiness chose Tibetans from this area for the resettlement project. Because they don't have the infrastructure in place there, children in Arunachal Pradesh typically come to Dharamshala for basic education. The families are so poor they rarely see their children on holidays. "The reality for some of these families is that they will see each other for the first time in years when they arrive at Delhi airport [to travel to Canada]," said Travis.
The Tibetan community in Arunachal has responded to the resettlement project with overwhelming interest. During the Canada Tibet Committee's visit to two settlements in Arunachal Pradesh earlier this year, in one settlement 400 people came out; in the other, 300 people. "Virtually one person from each family came out," said Travis.
Travis urged interested Tibetans to truly look into what a move to Canada would mean for them and their families. "One of the messages we wanted to convey is that you know Canada from television, but that's not really Canada. Do your research. Make sure this is the right decision for you."
Those Tibetans eligible for and interested in this project are encouraged to start the process of obtaining an identity certificate in India. If they are given permanent residency in Canada, which is possible after they live there for three years, the certificate will enable them to come back to India to visit. If they do not have the certificate, they may be denied this opportunity.
New life in Canada
The CTC is working to ensure that every Tibetan who immigrates to Canada will be sponsored. Through the CTC's "Group of Five" program, each refugee will have the support of five or more Canadian individuals. The Groups of Five will help support the refugees financially and in finding work and housing. The groups will also help the refugees adjust to their inevitable culture shock, working with them on their English and French and helping them find schools for their children.
The CTC hopes to match the Tibetan immigrants with jobs they already have the skills for. Agriculture, handicraft, service industry, and health care have been identified as potential areas of good matches between Tibetan skills and Canadian need.
Several larger groups, such as churches and synagogues, have expressed interest in forming Groups of Five. With potentially hundreds of people in a congregation, individuals with such a group would "feel like they had an incredible support system behind them," said Travis.
Travis hopes that a mix of individuals will participate in the Groups of Five program, and that among these will be some who have been part of a Group of Five in the past as well as some Tibetan-Canadians who have been through the immigration experience. "No one is going to be abandoned in this process," Travis assured.
The CTC is committed to helping the Tibetan refugees keep their culture and language alive in their new life in Canada. The existing Tibetan community is already doing well with this, as many Tibetan cultural associations are thriving there. With the new refugees, there will be "sufficient numbers to do some dynamic things," said Travis.
Canadians interested in applying to be part of a Group of Five can do so this coming September, when the forms become available.
History of Tibetan refugees in Canada
The Tibetan community in Canada already numbers around 5,000, and is primarily located in Ontario. In 1967 His Holiness began appealing for the international community to accept refugees, and in 1971 Canada fulfilled that request by resettling 228 refugees. The resettlement was largely successful; within three years all were employed and self-sufficient. The government paid $558,000 to help out with food, shelter, clothing, and transportation, well below what they had budgeted.
Travis anticipates that this program will proceed in a similar manner. "A few years down the road we can look at 1,000 Tibetans who are full contributors to Canadian society."
For more information about the Canada resettlement program, visit http://www.tibet.ca/, http://www.youtube.com/tibetchannel#p/a/u/1/zEHPHnZY_YI, http:www.youtube.com/tibetchannel, and http://www.facebook.com/tibetresettlementproject.