Victoria welcomes 50 new Tibetan residents

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The Project Tibet Society held a public forum Jan. 24, to inform the public of a project resettling up to 50 Tibetans in Victoria. The 50 people to take up residence in Victoria are a some of a greater 1 000 to be placed across Canada.

The resettlement is a part of Government of Canada public policy to facilitate Tibetans’ immigration from the state of Arunachal Pradesh, India, where they are displaced from Tibet. The resettlement was put in motion when the Dalai Lama made an appeal to Stephen Harper in 2007. The Canada Tibet Committee, with Tibetan Cultural Associations in Canada and the Office of Tibet in New York, then prepared a formal proposal for the resettlement, which was presented to Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney, on Sept. 16, 2009.

The first two individuals arrived in Victoria on Dec. 18, but the society is now preparing for six more people to arrive in Victoria. However, before they can arrive, the society has to ensure that there will be sponsorship in the form of accommodation for the six and people to support their adjustment to lives in Victoria. The support would come largely in the form of a group of three people—a Tibetan already adjusted to life in Victoria, a host, and a mentor. The society is also looking for support from the public, including donations of money, furniture, clothing, and other necessities, as well as accommodations. Donations of time are also welcome, if people are interested in being mentors or helping with fundraising.

Ray Yee, a representative of the Tibet Society in Vancouver who presented at the Jan. 24 forum, said the sponsorship lasts 12 months, but during that time, those being sponsored are expected to get work and begin the process toward supporting themselves. The resettlement itself is to raise their quality of life from their current statelessness and put them on the pathway to citizenship.

The proposed timeline for the resettlement is for sponsorship applications to be submitted by prospective new residents this February, to conduct interviews of applicants in India in March, and to have those selected arrive in Canada in May or June. Yee said that while the sponsorships may be for families, they often select only one person from each sponsorship to settle initially. Some of the public in attendance at the forum had objections about the separation of families, but Yee said he had struggled with the same concerns, until he realized that it allowed the person coming ahead of their family to focus on adjusting and gaining employment. He said that if the initial member of the family to settle in Victoria already has a stable income and a familiarity with the area, it makes the transition for their family following them much easier.

Yee also said that another aspect of the selection process is to try and initially select those Tibetans who have superior English language skills and are high functioning. (He gave no definition of “high functioning” for these purposes.) There were more objections to this from an attendee, but Yee said that it gives opportunity for those without high-level English skills to get additional training in India, so they arrive with a better chance to smoothly transition to Victoria. He said the Tibetans who come first because they have existing English language skills may also pave the way for later arrivals and help newcomers to adjust.

The Project Tibet Society, which was founded in 2011 to oversee the implementation of the resettlement project, has a five-year cutoff, and all those Tibetans found eligible must arrive before the summer of 2016. Yee said that if suitable sponsorships are not set up by the deadline, the program may be unable to accommodate the projected number of people.

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