US Congress mulls Tibetan exile visas
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US Congress mulls Tibetan exile visas

US immigration reform to support exiled Tibetans in Nepal and India, writes Asia Sentinel’s Saransh Sehgal

US lawmakers debating a landmark immigration bill have agreed to provide 5,000 US visas for displaced Tibetans in Nepal and India over the next three years in an effort to support the refugee community and as a response to China’s suppression of the Tibetan people.

The move is partly because of increasing pressure on the part of Beijing in the Himalayan kingdom of Nepal over Tibetan exiles. Nepal abides by a ‘one-China policy’ and does not tolerate anti-China separatist activities on its soil. Nepal’s 20,000 Tibetan refugees face constant crackdowns over their political movements and even on their open religious celebrations.

The omnibus immigration bill has a long way to go, having only passed the Senate Judiciary Committee. It must reconcile with a House of Representatives version in the face of recalcitrant Republicans who, even though they have softened to immigration after their debacle with Latin voters in the 2012 election, are still hostile to reform. The last bipartisan immigration reform bill failed in 2007. No immigration bill has passed the Congress for 13 years, and the Tibetan rider is a small part of this one that could easily get lost in the process.

More than 9,000 exiled Tibetans already live in the United States and participate constantly in anti-China protests on any major Tibetan events. As they spread, the Tibetans believe their voices will not be heard from the de facto exile capital Dharamsala in northern India, but also from countries that support their non-violent struggle and have a vested interested in defusing the Communist regime’s growing global influence.

US support for exiled Tibetans could come as an unpleasant surprise to the new Chinese leader, President Xi Jinping, who will meet US President Barack Obama during a June 7-8 summit in Rancho Mirage, California. Xi became China’s paramount leader in in March. The Chinese leadership has not been hesitant about bringing pressure on other countries, particularly India, over Tibetan activities on their soil.

Since 2009, at least 110 Tibetans have burned themselves to death in Tibet and other countries in protest against Chinese rule over the kingdom and to call for the return of their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, from exile. Protests in exile Tibetan communities have attracted extensive media coverage, compelling world governments to break their silence over the issue. The White House has regularly addressed concerns on the religious suppression and the grim situation inside Tibet.

Citing the increasing oppression, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein said the immigration measure, approved by voice vote, would ease conditions for displaced Tibetans living in India and Nepal, Agence France-Presse reported. “In Nepal, the government has been essentially following Chinese mandates to make it very difficult for the Tibetan refugee community,” she said. Even though the actual provision must get through both the Senate and the House of Representatives, exiled Tibetans have hailed it as indicating the US’s backing both socially and politically and directing a strong message on human rights in the region, defying China’s dominance in South Asia.

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