Tibetan Refugees in India

Country of origin background

Tibetan Refugees in India

As recently as 1914, a Peace Convention was signed by Britain, China and Tibet that formally recognized Tibet as an independent country. Representatives from the major monasteries governed the country with the Dalai Lama heading the government. The Tibetan people have a deep-seated faith in religion and Buddhism ruled every aspect of their lives. In 1949 China invaded Tibet. Two years later Chinese troops forcibly occupied Tibet; killing, detaining and arresting thousands of Tibetan citizens.

Reason for flight

Following the Chinese incursion in 1951, China continued to perpetrate human rights violations in Tibet despite pleas from the Dalai Lama and his government. The efforts of the Dalai Lama to find a peaceful solution to the ongoing violence proved futile and his personal security was threatened. Calls for help to the international community went unheeded and the Dalai Lama was forced to flee. His flight was followed by an exodus of Tibetan people unable to live under Chinese oppression. In 1959, approximately 80,000 Tibetans fled to India with a steady flow filtering into India in the years that followed. Today, there are approximately 150,000 Tibetan refugees living in India.


Legal status

Tibetans who arrived in India in the late 1950s and early 1960s were accorded refugee status by the Indian government despite India not being party to either the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees or the 1967 Protocol. These Tibetans were issued registration certificates, which must be renewed once or twice a year. Tibetans who were born in India are also eligible to obtain a registration certificate once they are 18 years old.


Although the Indian government continues to allow Tibetans to enter the country, it has not afforded them the same legal status as the first wave of Tibetans. However, some Tibetans who arrived in the second-wave were able to obtain their registration certificates by claiming that they were born in India.


Tibetans are given more rights than most other refugee groups in India. They are provided with residence permits, which enable them to seek formal employment. They are the only refugee group to receive travel permits from the Indian government.


Socio-economic conditions

Tibetans in India live in 37 different settlements and 70 scattered communities in Himachal Pradesh, Ladakh, Arunachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, South Sikkim, West Bengal, Maharashtra and Orissa. Of the settlements, just under half are based on agriculture, while one-third are agro-industrial and a fifth are handicraft-based. The scattered communities consist of smaller groups of Tibetans outside of the official settlements who were not willing, or not able, due to limited resources, to be accommodated in the settlements.


Specific protection issues

Indians and Tibetans generally co-exist peacefully but there have been isolated cases of anti-Tibetan violence. There have been no cases where any specific groups within the Tibetan Community have been targeted.