Dalai Lama Misses an Opportunity

Considering that he represents a community of up to 150,000 people living in exile, some for as long as 65 years, it seemed the essence of hypocrisy for the Dalai Lama to state that Middle East refugees should only stay in Europe temporarily.

What's worse, he voiced a concern that, "Europe, for example Germany, cannot become an Arab country." What is that supposed to mean? Will he likewise caution that those Tibetan Buddhists who have fled to predominantly Christian countries such as the US, Norway, Switzerland, and Australia are contaminating those countries with their alien faith and insistence on building temples, burning incense, meditating, and chanting? Does he not agree that refugees and migrants can become full participants in their new societies, as loyal (and in the case of Germany, bratwurst and Beethoven-loving) as any native-born?

As the spiritual leader of ten to twenty million people, adored and respected by many millions more, I would expect the Dalai Lama to choose his words more carefully. In New Zealand, we are debating whether to lift our refugee quota for the first time in 29 years and I fear his words could be wielded by those opposed to New Zealand embracing its humanitarian obligations by doing so.

Made in a recent interview with the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine the comments reflect that the Dalai Lama has had anything but a normal life, yet a normal life is all that most refugees long for. That means not living perennially torn in half, with one foot planted in a new country while the other stays rooted in the old, waiting for an opportune time to return, a time which might never come. And in the meantime, new languages are learned, new lifestyles adopted, new children born and raised and acculturated--in other words, roots are laid down.

I immigrated to New Zealand voluntarily, so I do see take this matter personally, but if you've gotten this far, please take the time to read the words of someone who actually arrived here as a refugee in 2005, Abann Yor.

Uprooting oneself and moving to a new country is not easy. Ideally, it is a decision that would always be a personal choice, but as we know, refugees feel they have no other option if they wish to survive. Countries that embrace refugees and invest generously in the services they need to settle well reap the rewards. It wouldn't surprise me if those rewards include an injection of a necessary antipathy to the sort of militarism and interference that creates refugees in the first place. What a shame that the Dalai Lama didn't use his interview to condemn the Western military industrial complex instead of making it even harder for its victims to ever feel at home anywhere again.

Reference: New Zealand Herald, June 2, 2016:
Dalai Lama warns Europe risks losing its identity by taking too many migrants

Here is a (Google) translation of the full interview. He does advocate that the West help in rebuilding efforts. Although he admits a 'small number of Muslims' are responsible for certain 'sad events', it seems clear that his position nonetheless is that all should have refugee status on a temporary basis only.


An American expat living in Auckland since 2000, Julia Schiller is a graduate of Washington University in St Louis, a former ESOL teacher, a Labour Party volunteer, and a self-employed entrepreneur.