Dalai Lama weighs in on France's migrant debate

The Dalai Lama leaving his hotel in Paris on 13 September, 2016.
The Dalai Lama leaving his hotel in Paris on 13 September, 2016. Reuters/Charles Platiau

The Dalai Lama on Tuesday urged Europe to emphasise education for the hundreds of thousands of refugees that have arrived mainly from the Middle East as a means of rebuilding their home countries.


"Provide them education, particularly for children," the Tibetan spiritual leader told French news agency AFP during a visit to France. "Then... eventually these refugees return (to) their own land and rebuild their own countries." The 81-year-old Buddhist monk appealed to "the real spirit of the European Union", urging the bloc to "consider the importance of the common interest" in dealing with the refugee crisis. The 1989 Nobel Peace Prize laureate lamented the "terrible situations" they fled, saying: "Too much killing! And these innocent children (and) old people, I think, suffered a lot."

The Dalai Lama, who fled to India along with thousands of others after a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959, said: "We Tibetan refugees... we are all thinking (of a) return to our own country."

Many settled in and around the northern Indian town of Dharamsala where a Tibetan government-in-exile functions that is not recognised by any foreign state. Beijing accuses the Dalai Lama of seeking Tibetan independence through "spiritual terrorism".

The Dalai Lama, who is making his first visit to France in five years, will travel to Strasbourg before he leaves on Sunday. He will not meet with any French leaders during the trip that is focused on inter-faith dialogue, environmental issues and Tibetan culture.

The French dilemma

More than a million refugees and migrants have entered Europe over the past year, largely fleeing conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Immigration is a key national issue as politicians gear up for primary elections on the left and right ahead of next year's presidential polls.

France did not follow EU partner Germany's opening of its borders to the massive influx of migrants into Europe last year. But for several years, a makeshift camp in Calais, in northern France, known as the Jungle camp, has attracted waves of migrants hoping to cross from the continent to Britain.

Plans to create new migrant centres across France notably to house thousands moved from the Jungle camp were condemned by right-wing critics on Tuesday as "irresponsible" and at risk of sparking a "civil war".

The Socialist-led government believes some 12,000 places are needed by the end of the year, much more than previously thought, according to a leaked interior ministry document.

The figure includes providing long-term shelter to migrants from the Calais camp, which the government has vowed to dismantle, as well as another transit centre due to open in Paris in mid-October.

The document, disclosed by Le Figaro newspaper, involves plans for migrant centres across the country apart from Paris and the Mediterranean island of Corsica, where the foreign population is the highest. The interior ministry has promised a "consultation" but the document triggered angry reactions including from the far-right National Front, which called it an "irresponsible distribution plan".

The right-wing Les Republicains of former president Nicolas Sarkozy -- hoping to return to the Elysee Palace in elections next year -- denounced it even more strongly, calling it a "state scandal".

- with AFP


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