New Mexico Set to Open Its Door to Tibetans : Immigration: The Santa Fe area is one of 15 sites around the country that will help resettle about 1,000 refugees.


In the courtyard of a cluster of adobe buildings, Tibetan prayer flags flutter in the breeze by a well-worn basketball hoop.

“The integration of Western and Eastern cultures,” Paljor Thondup said with a smile.

The compound on Canyon Road, a winding, narrow street lined with expensive art galleries and shops, is the heart of Santa Fe’s community of a dozen Tibetans. The community will soon grow.


Here visitors find the office of Project Tibet, a refugee-support group that is part of a plan to resettle 1,000 Tibetans in 15 communities around the country by October, 1993. Thondup is director of the project, which gets no government support and relies on private donations and local employers offering jobs.

An estimated 130,000 Tibetans live in exile, primarily in India, from the homeland that the Chinese occupied in 1959. About 500 Tibetans live in the United States. The U.S. government, reluctant to offend China, offers Tibetans neither refugee nor immigrant status.

The exception is a special provision of the 1990 Immigration Act making 1,000 immigrant visas available to displaced Tibetans living in refugee camps in India and Nepal.

Organizers of the resettlement project expect the first Tibetans to arrive next month in New York; Amherst, Mass.; Madison, Wis.; Minneapolis-St. Paul; the San Francisco area and Portland, Ore.

Other sites are Boston; Ithaca, N.Y.; Brattleboro, Vt.; Salt Lake City; Chicago; Boise, Ida.; Seattle; Missoula, Mont., and the Santa Fe-Albuquerque area.

“By resettling them in cluster sites, our hope is to preserve the cohesiveness and continuity of Tibetan culture,” said Edward Bednar, executive director of the Tibetan U.S. Resettlement Project.

Thondup finds New Mexico and New Mexicans especially hospitable for Tibetans.

When Thondup arrived here 17 years ago the high-desert country seemed familiar to him. Its snow-capped mountains, brilliant blue skies and adobe houses reminded him of Tibet.

“I almost had doubts whether I was in the U.S. or had landed in the wrong place,” said Thondup, 47, a refugee at the age of 11 who lived in Nepal, India and England before coming to this country.

The friendliness, tolerance and cultural diversity of the state also make it ideal for refugee Tibetans, he said. When the Dalai Lama visited New Mexico a year ago, the Tibetan spiritual leader and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize met with leaders of American Indian tribes. His speeches drew crowds in the thousands.

New Mexico is scheduled to receive 10 Tibetan immigrants in July, and up to 100 may eventually settle in the state, said Anasuya Weila, project organizer.

So far, employers have offered more than 40 jobs. Volunteers are preparing to teach the refugees English; others are raising money because the Tibetans are ineligible for federal assistance. An estimated $2,000 will be needed for each newcomer for their initial expenses and health insurance, Weila said.

The project is working with the Dalai Lama’s government-in-exile in Dharamsala, India, which is choosing men and women ages 18 to 45 from among 15,000 applicants. Once settled, the Tibetans may bring over other family members.