Mass migration program highlights contested nomads' resettlement policies in Tibet

June 21, 2018

  • China has announced the displacement of more than 1,000 Tibetans from a nature reserve in northern Tibet to a settlement site in Lhasa, describing it as the first “high-altitude ecological migration”. Framing the removal of Tibetans – along with other mass relocations across the Tibetan plateau - in terms of “conservation and protection” fundamentally disregards the essential role of Tibetans in sustaining the wildlife, the long-term health of the ecosystems, and the water resources that China and Asia depend upon.

  • The state media also reported that fencing previously used to control and prevent movement of people across nomadic pastures in the reserve will now be removed – to ensure Tibetan antelopes can roam freely, not Tibetan herders. The fencing of the grasslands, an integral element of policy, had affected the mobility of the antelopes, which Tibetan nomads risked and sacrificed their lives to save in the 1990s when they were threatened with extinction due to poaching.

  • The “ecological migration” program is part of a new approach to set up national parks on the Tibetan plateau, contingent upon the removal of Tibetans from the land. National park status is imposed from the top-down, situating the state as the sole agency of control, and ignoring the concerns and expertise of local people. These policies are increasingly contested even within the PRC.

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