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Humanitarian Gesture: Canada and the Tibetan Resettlement Program, 1971–5

by Jan Raska PhD, Researcher

In 1966, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) lobbied the Canadian government to accept a small number of Tibetan refugees for permanent resettlement. Federal officials informed the UNHCR that Canadian immigration policy discouraged group settlement. Initially, efforts to permanently resettle the Tibetan refugees were stifled as Canadian immigration officials disagreed over the resettlement of “self-described nomads.” As the Canadian government strengthened relations with the People's Republic of China (PRC), federal officials resettled an experimental wave of 228 Tibetan refugees in an effort to meet their international humanitarian obligations and to find a permanent solution to the plight of Tibetan refugees in northern India. The resettlement program demonstrated that refugees from a non-European ethnocultural and linguistic background who did not qualify under normal immigration criteria could be successfully re-established in Canada in a short period of time and at a relatively low cost to the federal government. The special program for Tibetan refugees illustrated to federal officials that future refugee programs had to be coordinated with individuals and families themselves in order to effectively meet their needs and governmental requirements during resettlement.

Read Jan Raska’s article, Humanitarian Gesture: Canada and the Tibetan Resettlement Program, 1971–5, published in the Canadian Historical Review.