One by one, the world’s nations are dissociating with the Tibetan leadership. On June 28, 2016 Swedish authorities announced a change in regulations, saying that they no longer accepted the Tibetan Identity Certificate as a valid identification document. The Identity Certificate, popularly known as the Yellow Book thanks to its cover, is issued by the Indian government. It identifies the bearer as a Tibetan refugee and protectorate of India, and requests immigration at the traveler’s destination to allow the bearer to enter the country.
This news came as a shock to the Tibetan community because without the Identity Certificate, and without any other identification documentation, they would not be allowed to apply for a visa to enter Sweden. This was swiftly followed by Switzerland’s announcement in July 2016 that they had revised their immigration policy, and that Switzerland no longer recognized “Tibetan” as a valid nationality. The ruling specifically concerned the Yellow Book, which Switzerland also announced would no longer be accepted as a valid identification document. Tibetans in Switzerland were also asked to change their nationality to “Chinese”. With more than 4,000 Tibetans living in Switzerland, they are the largest exile community in Europe so Switzerland’s change in policy was a real blow.
The infographic used by the Voice of America to announce that Sweden no longer accepted the Yellow Book as a valid form of identification that can be used during the visa application process.
Later in the same year, in December 2016, news came that Mongolia had banned the Dalai Lama, after a highly publicized but unpopular visit to the Buddhist nation. And now the latest news is that on May 18, 2017, Italy has followed in Sweden and Switzerland’s footsteps. After the Italian Consulate in Mumbai, India stopped accepting applications from Tibetans for an Italian visa, it was swiftly followed by the consulate in Delhi stopping too. Both consulates had done so upon orders from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Rome, Italy. Just like Sweden and Switzerland, Italy has stopped accepting the Yellow Book as a valid identity document.
Even India themselves, do not appear to be interested in applying effort to maintain the refugee privileges of carrying a Yellow Book. This is hardly surprising considering India does not benefit in any way for sticking up for the Tibetan Yellow Book. Given the current climate, it seems logical that in order for Tibetans to have unrestricted freedom to travel, the best would be for them to get an Indian passport. Yet, a recent court ruling decreed that any Tibetan who wants an Indian passport, must give up their Yellow Book (i.e. their Tibetan citizenship) because it is illegal in Indian law to have dual citizenship. Tibetans wishing to get an Indian passport must also move out of the Tibetan settlements since they will no longer be considered a refugee.
Lobsang Wangyal, a Tibetan journalist and social entrepreneur, was the first Tibetan to get an Indian passport, having met the requirements set by the Indian government.
If the Yellow Book were that precious, and if the Indian government was that interested in maintaining the Yellow Book, they could have made some sort of exception for the Tibetan refugees to carry both. Yet the Indian government have created a situation whereby, over time and frustrated by their lack of ability to travel, Tibetans will be forced to give up their Tibetan citizenship, carry an Indian passport and assimilate into the general population in India.
And so now we come to this point on the road – Sweden, Switzerland and Italy have stopped recognizing the Yellow Book as valid identification, and India is pressing for Tibetans to give it up.
It is indeed strange that after 30 years, Switzerland and Italy have both suddenly stopped recognizing the Yellow Book’s validity. Both countries have traditionally had a good relationship with Tibetan refugees; as noted, Switzerland has the largest exile community in Europe, while Italy is home to many lamas and masters who have their Buddhist organizations and centres headquartered there. So what changed in the last 30 years that led to this outcome?
The only logical answer is the rise of China, and its ongoing dominance as a global economic and political powerhouse. As an increasing number of countries come to this realization, only time will tell what Tibetans will decide to do. History has shown that nations have not erred on the side of Tibet, preferring instead to work with China for the benefit of their own economies. Indeed the news of Italy rejecting the Yellow Book could not come at a worse time for the Tibetan leadership who now not only have to deal with a fallout with the US, but now with Europe too.
Over in the US, President Donald Trump has slashed the amount of financial aid to the Tibetan leadership to zero. While Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi and various other media personalities campaign to reverse this, over in Europe the European Central Bank (ECB) has converted a part of their US dollar reserves to the Chinese yuan. It is a move that economic analysts have said indicates the ECB’s faith in the Chinese economy as well as their dependency on it.
Then at a grassroots level, Chinese citizens continue to gain visa-free travel to an increasing list of countries. Visa-free travel suggests that these nations are very keen to attract Chinese tourists and foreign currency, and they want to make it as easy as possible for the Chinese to visit their countries. In the meantime, Tibetans find that their freedom to travel on the Yellow Book is slowly being eroded, even by India herself. Unlike the Chinese passport which is gaining in value, the Tibetan passport (a.k.a. the Yellow Book) is rapidly declining in value.
After years and years of corruption, money laundering, visa-for-money schemes, double standards, embezzlement, financial mismanagement, wasted foreign aid, suppression of free speech, prejudice against the Jonangpas, silence over the troubles faced by the Kagyus (like the Karmapa issue and the associated violence), abuse of donors’ funds, unethical elections, intimidation of political opponents, as well as rejecting Dorje Shugden practitioners, ostracizing them and violently discriminating against them, it unfortunately appears that the Tibetan leadership’s karma is swiftly catching up. Which country is next? Who will next step up and say they no longer accept “Tibetan” as a valid nationality, and the Yellow Book as a valid identification document? If this trend continues, and if the Tibetan leadership do not wake up soon, it will not be long before they find that they are banging on closed doors which will never open for them ever again.
The Petition Calling for the Italian Government to Accept Tibetan Applicants for Italian Visas
The petition that has been started to pressure the Italian Embassy in Mumbai to reverse their decision. Click to enlarge.
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