The Dalai Lama, the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual and political leader, recently said that “Europe belongs to the Europeans” while speaking at a conference in Malmo, Sweden, shortly after the elections which saw Sweden’s nationalist party achieve their highest vote share yet.
In further comments, the Dalai Lama – winner of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize – said that though Europe had a moral responsibility to aid any refugee “really facing danger against their life,” and should “receive them, help them, educate them,” ultimately they need to “develop” and “rebuild their own country.”
This is not the first time that the charismatic and internationally recognized champion of peace and unity has made similar statements. In 2016, he said that “from a moral point of view, too, I think that the refugees should only be admitted temporarily,” and there are “too many” migrants now flooding into Europe, noting that it is “impossible for everyone to come,” which is the incentive provided by current EU migrant policy. “Europe, for example Germany,” he stated, “cannot become an Arab country. Germany is Germany.”
Even for Syrians fleeing war, he stressed, asylum in Europe was “not a long-term solution,” and the only real answer could be found in their own homelands, through conflict resolution, economic development, and education.
His remarks, past and present, certainly find resonance for many people in Europe, which has been rocked by the migrant crisis ever since German chancellor Angela Merkel and the European Union forced open the borders to millions of refugees and economic migrants from the Middle East and Africa, many of them young men of military age. Polls show that immigration and terrorism consistently land at the top of issues Europeans are most concerned about, and this is reflected in the massive surge of right-wing populist and nationalist parties, especially in eastern and southern Europe.
In Sweden, where the Dalai Lama was speaking, the Sweden Democrats, an anti-immigration nationalist party, received 17.6% of the vote in the most recent elections, up from 12.9% in the previous ones, demonstrating a steady rise. In addition, both the center-right and left coalitions received around 40% each, meaning they must either govern with each other, or accept the Sweden Democrats as a governing partner.
In 2015, Sweden took in the largest number of migrants per capita of any country in Europe. The situation in many parts of the country, such as Malmo, has devolved rapidly, with the government and media covering up shockingly high crime rates and Muslim no-go zones, thus turning a blind eye to the victimization of native Swedes.
Despite the serious and manifest problems associated with the migrant influx, some might find the Dalai Lama’s consistent comments puzzling in light of the fact that he himself is a life-long refugee. At a young age, after assuming leadership of the Tibetan people, he and many others were forced to flee when the Chinese government invaded to crush Tibetan sovereignty. Currently, around 120,000 live in exile in India, where the Dalai Lama heads a government in exile and works for reconciliation with China and rights and autonomy for Tibet and its people.
However, it is possible that the Dalai Lama has at the back of his mind China’s policies toward his own homeland. Since the 1970s, the government has been masterminding the colonization of Tibet by flooding it with ethnic Chinese, granting them economic incentives to relocate, while at the same time driving native Tibetans off their rural lands, destroying their traditional lifestyle and making them dependent on the Chinese state. In 2015, Chinese outnumbered Tibetans in the region with about 7.5 million to 6 million, respectively, and the more Chinese Tibet becomes, the more the rights of the native people are eroded, and their hope of ever regaining autonomy fades into the wind.