Refusal as political practice

Citizenship, sovereignty, and Tibetan refugee status

by CAROLE McGRANAHAN

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Is it possible to be both a refugee and a citizen? For six decades, Tibetan refugees have refused citizenship in South Asia as part of their claims to Tibetan state sovereignty. They have lived in India and Nepal as refugee noncitizens, either undocumented or underdocumented, for multiple generations. But as Tibetans migrate to the United States and Canada, they gain citizenship through political asylum while maintaining their belonging to the Dalai Lama's refugee community. This shift in political practice is as situated in specific histories as it is in geographies. Tibetan citizenship practices in exile are not claims for recognition or forms of resistance; they are, rather, a refusal of international norms through a present‐day insistence on past and future political sovereignty.

After casting their ballots in the Central Tibetan Administration's (CTA) 2016 general election, a Tibetan family proudly display their Green Books, a passport‐like document issued by the CTA. This poll in Toronto was held at the Tibetan Canadian Cultural Centre, in Etobicoke, a district of Toronto.
After casting their ballots in the Central Tibetan Administration's (CTA) 2016 general election, a Tibetan family proudly display their Green Books, a passport‐like document issued by the CTA. This poll in Toronto was held at the Tibetan Canadian Cultural Centre, in Etobicoke, a district of Toronto. (Gelek Badheytsang, Tenzin Nawang Tekan)