Abstract This ethnographic study explores a novel case that has not been discussed in the context of migration theories before; migration processes and intentions of Tibetans who have migrated via Nepal to Dharamsala, India, and often intend to, or manage to, migrate onwards. It builds upon the concept of transit migration, the most established concept used to describe dynamic migration via one place or several towards migrants’ possible final destinations. This type of migration has been studied mostly in Europe and its border areas, and it has been argued that the concept should only be used in this geographical area. This study challenges this claim by examining its application in the context of Tibetan migration via Nepal to India and further. Since some contested determinants of transit migration, such as initial intentions to migrate onwards and time spent in a transit spot are also discussed, the paper contributes to the scholarly debates on the possibilities and limitations of the concept. It argues that the migration of the Tibetans can be considered transit migration when they migrate via Nepal to India, whereas their migration processes and intentions to move onwards from India are much more heterogeneous in general, although some participate in transit related activities also in Dharamsala. 1. Introduction This ethnographic study explores the migration of Tibetans via Nepal to India and onwards. The fieldwork was done in Dharamsala, a Himalayan town with approximately 14,000 Tibetan residents (CTA 2010). Theoretically, the article builds upon the concept of transit migration, which is the most established concept to describe migration via one place or several towards migrants’ possible final destinations. Tibetan migration has not been studied in this context before, except in one study (Frilund 2014). It provides a novel example of this type of migration outside the fringes of Europe where transit migration has mostly been studied; the existing studies, however, have not included systematic conceptual discussions and explicit comparisons about its uses in a global context. The roots of the larger-scale Tibetan migration and diaspora can be traced back to 1959 when their leader, the 14th Dalai Lama, fled to India together with his retinue. They received protection from the Government of India (GOI) as the newly found People’s Republic of China (PRC) had taken over Tibet. Tibetan migration to India still continues (e.g. Choedup 2015), and it is estimated that around 130,000 Tibetans currently live in diaspora; India alone hosts around 95,000 Tibetans whilst Nepal hosts the second largest number, approximately 14,000 (CTA 2010). The majority of the remaining live in what the Tibetans commonly call ‘the west’, and the migration to the west is increasing so rapidly that the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) estimates that this trend will result in the largest demographic change that the Tibetan diaspora has ever faced (CTA 2010). In addition, Tibetans from Tibet, i.e. those who have arrived from Tibet, are keen on migrating further because of their livelihood related difficulties in India; this will be discussed in this study. According to McConnell (2009), the CTA governs the Tibetan diaspora communities in India and has a sort of de facto legitimacy as it conducts several state-like functions (see also Roemer 2008). Hence, it has also a crucial role in managing and controlling Tibetan migration in India; however, the role of the GOI should not be underestimated as it permits Tibetans to arrive and settle in India and allows the type of legitimacy that the CTA enjoys. The CTA has its headquarters in Dharamsala, which is a cosmopolitan town that hosts one of the largest Tibetan diaspora communities in India. It is often called the capital of the Tibetan diaspora and it is a popular place for Tibetan newcomers to settle because it is the home of the Dalai Lama and numerous Tibetan institutions together with the NGOs that provide services for them (e.g. Anand 2009; Prost 2008; CTA 2010). Dharamsala was an informative place to conduct fieldwork since McLeod Ganj, the part of the town where most Tibetans live, has also become a sort of migration hub for Tibetans who migrate there from Tibet and for those who may continue onwards (Frilund 2015). This study contributes to transit migration theory by widening the focus of the concept geographically in order to compare and recognize similar types of migration processes outside the fringes of Europe where it has been studied the most (e.g. Düvell, Molodikova and Collyer 2011; Collyer, Düvell and de Haas 2012; Godenau 2012; İçduygu and Yükseker 2012; Gerard and Pickering 2013). I argue that the Tibetans from Tibet participate in transit migration when they migrate via Nepal to India. However, their migration processes and intentions to move on from India are much more heterogeneous. Notwithstanding, some clearly participate in transit-related activities in Dharamsala. In the following sections, I first review existing scholarly literature on transit migration and some of its most potential alternatives. Secondly, I describe the empirical methods of the study. After this, I explore my case study by discussing the migration processes and intentions of Tibetans from Tibet in Dharamsala, and compare the case study with the existing studies on transit migration. Finally, I discuss the potential and possible application of the concept describing Tibetan migration via Nepal to India and onwards as an example of its possible uses outside the European context. 2. Transit migration and its alternatives According to Carling (2007) or Schapendonk and Steel (2014), what happens during a migration process is too easily ignored. This seems to be true in the context of the Tibetan migration. The Tibetan diaspora has gained increasing scholarly attention, but the focus has been more on identity questions and sociocultural issues, for instance, than the migration process to India and further (e.g. Diehl 2002; Anand 2003; Houston and Wright 2003; Yeh 2007; Prost 2008; Swank 2011). If the migration of Tibetans into or out of India has gained some attention, the focus has rather been on migration from A to B (e.g. Hess 2006; Yeh and Lama 2006; Choedup 2015), not the whole migratory process of those who migrate from Tibet via Nepal to India and intend to or succeed in migrating further. This type of migration differs from the migration patterns of Indian-born Tibetans who do not take part in transit activities (Frilund 2014; Choedup 2015). In this paper, I concentrate on the progressive and onward-looking nature of the migration of Tibetans from Tibet. In general, it seems that migration via one place or several towards migrants’ possible final destinations has gained more attention within recent years as several scholars have paid attention to transit migration; this being the most established scholarly concept to describe this type of migration (e.g. Tsianos and Karakayali 2010; Düvell, Molodikova and Collyer 2011; Stock 2011; Collyer, Düvell and de Haas 2012; Godenau 2012; İçduygu and Yükseker 2012; Gerard and Pickering 2013). However, transit migration has been rightfully criticized for being a politicized concept as it has been used in discussions about migration control by institutions such as the United Nations (UN) and the European Union (EU) (e.g. Bredeloup 2012; Düvell 2012; Hess 2012; Collyer and de Haas 2012; Wissink, Düvell and van Eerdewijk 2013). According to Düvell (2012), the concept of a transit country is also misleading since many of those countries that are thus designated such as the Mediterranean countries e.g. Morocco or Turkey—are immigration or emigration countries and the transit activities form just one part of these movements (see also Marcellino and Farahi 2011). According to Oelgemöller (2011: 416), it has changed ‘from being a descriptive idea in geography to becoming a tool of governance’ and the whole concept of transit has become value-laden. Düvell (2012), however, emphasizes that although the concept has been criticized, it can still be used on the fringes of Europe. According to Collyer and de Haas (2012: 478), ‘transit countries are first and foremost those that border the EU, or the Mediterranean Sea’ and ‘being “in transit” is extremely difficult to define outside of a particular political context’. Thus, some scholars seem to avoid applying the concept to other places and continents particularly because of its origins and political uses in the European context (see Collyer, Düvell and de Haas 2012 for a review; İçduygu and Yükseker 2012). This stand ignores, however, that the term ‘transit’ is often used, for example, to describe migration via Mexico to the USA and in the context of Mexican migration to ‘transit towns’ like Tamaulipas and further to the USA (e.g. Cárdenas-Rodríguez and Vázquez-Delgado 2014; Servan-Mori et al. 2014; Terron-Caro and Monreal-Gimeno 2014; Martinez-Donate et al. 2015). Moreover, Menjivar (2014) has compared the border-controlling strategies of Europe and the USA in terms of transit migration, and Hoffstaedter (2014: 873) describes Malaysia as a ‘transit point’. These studies deal with ‘transit’ as a journey from the exit point ‘to the point of arrival’ (Gerard and Pickering 2013: 339), as I intend to do, revealing that similar types of migration flows also exist elsewhere than in Europe and its border regions. Some alternatives to transit migration have also been suggested by the key scholars dealing with the phenomenon but they have not gained as established a position as transit migration. Düvell (2012) has suggested that the concept of on-migration could replace transit migration as an umbrella category; transit migration would therefore become a sub-category, describing strictly intentioned migration via one or several countries towards a final destination in the fringes of Europe. As terms like onward migration (e.g. Schapendonk 2013; Giralt 2016) or out- and in-migration have also been in use (e.g. Boyle, Halfacree and Vaughan 1998), on-migration seems to be a rather illustrative concept to describe the progressive forward movement. However, Düvell (2012: 424) supports the structuralist approach and demands ‘a clear-cut typology derived from rigid comparison of various patterns of migration and migrants’ strategies’. This kind of approach would be problematic in the context of Tibetans from Tibet since their migration processes and intentions are fluid, particularly in India, and change during different phases. I agree with scholars who argue that strict determinants do not fit into transit migration because people easily cross categories and their fluid migration processes elude such definitions in practice (see Papadopoulou-Kourkoula 2008; Collyer and de Haas 2012; Hess 2012). Attempts to replace transit migration with less structuralistic concepts that allow more variations include Hess’s (2012) concept of a precarious transit zone, and Collyer’s (2007, 2010) concept of fragmented journeys. A precarious transit zone is meant to describe the hotspots of transit activities without a need to define individual migrants, because their narratives often vary or change. Hess (2012: 428) suggests that a concept of a ‘precarious transit zone’ should be applied as it allows ‘different figures of transit migrants’ including those that overstay their visa and rejected asylum seekers. However, Dharamsala cannot be seen as just a transit zone since it is the location of a rather large and well-established Tibetan community where many Tibetans from Tibet live, and intend to live, permanently. Moreover, the concept is supposed to be ‘understood partly as the spatialized social effect of the European Union border regime’ (Hess 2012: 435). Collyer’s (2010) concept of fragmented journeys is potentially the most complementary concept to transit migration in describing the situation of such Tibetans who have migrated via Nepal to India and ponder their migration possibilities there, as will be discussed later in this study. It highlights migration via one place or several towards migrants’ possible final destinations as a non-linear process where intentions change and the amount of time in the intermediary stages can be long. According to Collyer (2010: 275), the nature of a fragmented journey is ‘broken into a number of separate stages, involving varied motivations, legal statuses, and living and employment conditions’ and it seems that he considers it as a global phenomenon. However, he does not really discuss this factor, and it remains sometimes unclear when one should use transit migration and when fragmented journeys (see Collyer and de Haas 2012). In addition, literature about secondary migration could be applied when describing Tibetan migration from India onwards (e.g. Gerard and Pickering 2013), but just like fragmented journeys, it does not describe the dynamics of their movement in Nepal, as the Tibetans tend to transit the country. Since Nepal no longer officially accepts Tibetan newcomers the Tibetans tend to go to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) refugee reception centre in Kathmandu (CTA 2010). They tend to do this intentionally, knowing that they will be sent to India by the UNHCR. The concept is also value laden in a similar manner to other types of concepts such as ‘irregular secondary movement’. According to Oelgemöller (2011), many asylum seekers from Asia receive some sort of protection in the places to which they first migrate, like the Tibetans from Tibet in India, despite their poor living conditions. The European governments, for example, use this protection as a reason to reject the asylum applications of those who participate in this type of secondary migration or movement (Oelgemöller 2011), a policy that also concerns the Tibetans from Tibet. Hence, these concepts are not any less politicized than transit migration. As there is a lack of a systematic examination of the possibilities of transit migration on a global scale, my aim is to initiate discussion about these possibilities. I agree with İçduygu and Yükseker (2012) that the politicization of the concept should not lead to abandoning empirical and analytical discussions on the realities of transit migration—although the concept needs to be critically evaluated in different contexts. However, this should not lead to the abandonment of these realities outside Europe and its border regimes, at least not without carefully examining its possibilities to describe this type of migration where it exists in other locations. Finally, this paper follows Castles (2010) who argues that scholars should develop middle-range theories on migration in empirical contexts rather than a single theory trying to explain it all. Hence, I use the concept of transit migration as a middle-range concept in order to explore Tibetan migration via Nepal to India and further. I also use it to promote a debate on the possibilities of transit migration to develop a wider theoretical understanding of migration via one place or several towards migrants’ possible final destinations on a global scale. 3. Empirical methods The empirical part of this article is based on a qualitative ethnographic study, including semi-structured interviews of 52 Tibetans during different fieldwork trips to Dharamsala. The total time spent on the field trips was over 10 months during the period 2009 to 2015. Of the interviewees, 31 were young adults or middle-aged lay Tibetans from Tibet and 21 were Tibetan NGO or CTA officials. These NGOs or CTA officials either monitored the Tibetan diaspora in India or worked closely with Tibetans from Tibet. Four informants were interviewed twice and one Tibetan from Tibet, who arrived via Dharamsala, and one member of the CTA, were interviewed in Europe between the fieldwork trips. Most of the Tibetan interviewees who came from Tibet belonged to the group commonly called newcomers in Dharamsala, also among the Tibetans themselves. However, there is no clear point at which an individual stops being a newcomer as identity and adaptation questions are also involved. Thus, I considered it easier to speak about Tibetans from Tibet. These interviewees had lived in Dharamsala from a few weeks to more than 20 years at the time of the interview, but most often around five to 10 years. Among the Tibetans from Tibet, 11 interviewees were women and the rest were men. As migration to India is more popular among Tibetan men than women, this is rather close to the ratio of men and women newcomers in Dharamsala. Moreover, in general, there are more men among the CTA professionals and among the leaders in the Tibetan run NGOs; five of the officials I interviewed were women. By the end of the interviewing process, I felt that a certain saturation point had been reached as similar issues concerning the migration of Tibetans from Tibet started to be repeated by different interviewees (see Bowen 2008). I was hesitant to contact the Tibetan interviewees without knowing them or them knowing me at all. Although Dharamsala is very cosmopolitan, the political climate particularly among the Tibetan newcomers is tense in a sense that they often feared encountering people spying for the PRC. During my field work I found this nervousness not only concerned other Tibetans, but also other nationalities, such as westerners, who were sometimes believed to be involved in spying activities. Therefore, I often selected the interviewees with a snowball sample so that the recommendations of whom to interview affected my selection. I also requested interviews with Tibetans who I met via people who already knew me (see Mikkelsen 2005). I acknowledge the risks of this kind of sample, such as only people from the same social group being interviewed, so I tried to choose interviewees from various social circles. Eleven interviews needed to be translated (by four Tibetan interpreters) as I have only had a beginners’ course in the Tibetan language. Although something was probably lost in translation, I also considered it important to interview some individuals who could not speak English. More than two thirds of the interviews were recorded and later transcribed, but if the informant did not wish to be recorded, was hesitant to talk to me at first, or was planning to migrate back or visit Tibet soon, I made handwritten notes. As Hess (2012) states, it is common that the migrants who aim to head further avoid being recorded due to their vulnerable position. This was evident particularly among those Tibetans who were considering returning to Tibet because of the tense political situation there. Participatory observation was one of my major methods, and for several months I volunteered to help in an English conversation class run by one of the NGOs; the class provided language teaching particularly for Tibetan newcomers. Volunteering gave me a deeper understanding of the everyday lives of Tibetans in contrast to being just been an outside observer. However, I was open about my role as a researcher and no discussions, except those in an official interview situation, are referred to directly in order to protect the interviewees’ rights (Mikkelsen 2005; Chambers 2008; Frilund 2015). The main literary source was the demographic survey of the CTA (2010), which covers the years 1998 to 2009. As the CTA (2010) states, it could not contact all the Tibetans in the diaspora, but the survey still provides the most recent and comprehensive demographics concerning the Tibetan diaspora communities in South Asia (India, Nepal, and Bhutan); thus giving some idea about the volume of Tibetan migration. I also discussed the survey with a CTA official in 2011 and in 2015 in order to obtain more specific and updated information. I analysed the materials by loosely using selective coding and those discourses coded under the core category of ‘transit migration or alike’ are particularly explored in this study (see Strauss and Corbin 1990; Charmaz and Bryant 2011). I consider that a discourse can be seen ‘as a concept of action’ (Barnett 2015: 174), and that the speech of the interviewees represents the social or everyday practices they engage in with the world around them (see Said 1978; Wylie 2015). Discourses may, for example, represent the migration-related intentions and actions of the interviewees, but whether they manage to achieve their intentions in practice or whether the moves made in order to migrate lead to concrete migration out of India also depends on the structures around them. 4. Findings 4.1 From Tibet via Nepal to India During the first decades of the Tibetan diaspora, Tibetans left Tibet mainly because of the political persecution and being prevented from practising their culture and religion (McConnell 2009; Wangmo and Teaster 2010; Choedup 2015). Currently, the major reasons for Tibetans to migrate to India are to acquire education—religious or secular, for themselves or their children—and to meet their religious leader, the 14th Dalai Lama (e.g. Frilund 2015; Swank 2011). The interviewees in this study also often related that they wanted to vote with their feet against what they considered the repressive policies of the PRC; thus, an active Tibetan agency was present in their descriptions of the journey to India. This resonates with Terron-Caro and Monreal-Gimeno’s (2014) findings in Mexico, where the women intending to transit Mexico in order to reach the USA highlighted their agency in the migration decisions as being motivated by a desire for a greater autonomy to make choices for themselves and their children. It is common that poorer migrants use land routes whereas the wealthier may fly to their destinations (Düvell 2012: 423; Hess 2012). However, the PRC’s border and aircraft controls may prevent those Tibetans who could afford to fly from doing so as their migration is strictly controlled and Tibetans do not obtain passports easily (Personal communication 2, 16 December 2015). Most of the interviewees from Tibet had crossed the border between China and Nepal illegally from the perspective of the PRC, journeying at least partly on foot via the Himalayas without proper documents, and in fear of the Chinese and Nepali armies. This route was common among the Tibetans as it has been considered for a long time as the ‘easiest’ means of escaping without a passport (Routray 2007: 81). The interviewees had hired a smuggler or a guide in order to cross the border into Nepal. This type of smuggling is comparable with Collyer’s (2007) small-scale smuggling where the smuggler guides the migrant through a certain border or a short stage of the journey for money. Migrating through the Himalayas on foot was a traumatizing experience for many and some became sick during the journey, others had bad frost bite, and some lost members of their group. All the interviewees, including the two interviewees who had passports, intentionally proceeded, on arrival in Nepal, to the UNHCR’s refugee reception centre in Kathmandu, knowing that from there they would receive assistance to continue on to India. This type of migration is comparable with transit migration practices on the fringes of Europe or the USA, where the migrants intentionally head to a certain place in order to continue onwards (e.g. Jordan and Düvell 2002). However, the UNHCR policy to transfer Tibetans to India makes their situation rather unique. Typically, the journey of the Tibetans from Tibet stops in the Dharamsala area, at least for a while, because they are accommodated in the Refugee Reception Centre a few kilometres from McLeod Ganj (formerly in McLeod Ganj), and because they wish to see the Dalai Lama. Before the Beijing Olympics in 2008, thousands of Tibetans arrived in India every year (Personal communication, 15 April 2010). Afterwards the number dropped dramatically into the hundreds and is currently even less. The Tibetan CTA or NGO officials in Dharamsala highlighted the strengthened border controls of the PRC, especially in the aftermath of the Tibetan riots during the Beijing Olympics (e.g. Personal communication 2, 14 December 2015; Personal communication 1, 15 December 2015). Other reasons have also been cited such as a decreasing family size, an improving economic standard among Tibetans, and easier access abroad (e.g. Personal communication 2, 16 December 2015; see also Vasantkumar 2013: 220). Nevertheless, the officials I interviewed in the Tibetan Refugee Reception Centre, for example, were certain that if the border controls were to be relaxed, many more Tibetans would again arrive in India (Personal communications 1, 15 December 2015). 4.2 Migration from India to further destinations According to a CTA official, around 3,000 Tibetans per year migrate abroad, mainly to the West (Personal communication, 25 March 2011). He also estimated that in total around 35,000 have migrated during the diaspora and that the number is growing rapidly (Personal communication 2, 16 December 2015). Moreover, according to the CTA’s (2010) survey, around 22,000 Tibetans intend to migrate out of India alone (and more than 4000 out of Nepal) and that the number is increasing rapidly, leading to one of the greatest changes to the demographic shape of the Tibetan diaspora. This can be compared with Choedup’s (2015) finding that there are so many young Tibetans who have migrated abroad that, for the most part, in his fieldwork site in an agricultural Tibetan settlement called Dongyeling in Karnataka there are only the middle-aged and elderly left. The settlement of Dongyeling is approximately the size of Dharamsala’s Tibetan settlement. The CTA’s demographic survey also includes those Tibetans who have arrived from Tibet, but there are no statistics concerned only with their migration out of India. Nevertheless, a CTA official dealing with demographics stated that the Tibetan newcomers no longer want to stay in India as they did in the 1980s or before; they wish to migrate to the West (Personal communication, 25 March 2011; Personal communication 2, 16 December 2015). Although Tibetans still often say that they would like to move back to a ‘free Tibet’, and many return even though Tibet is not free, the migration onwards from India is so commonplace in Dharamsala that the interviewees in this study generally discussed it rather openly, gossiping about who had gone and where they had gone. One of the key interviewees in the study, who had been living for around 10 years in Dharamsala, expressed a feeling of loneliness and explained: ‘I mean I came in McLeod Ganj in 2006 and then I met lots of people like me. And I’m still staying but none of my friends here, all they’re gone (Personal communication 5, 16 December 2015)’. Those interviewees who had never aspired to migrate further or did not want to talk about such aspirations at all were in the minority (e.g. Personal communication 2, 9 December 2015). However, some of the interviewees who had had onward migration aspirations for years had never managed to migrate and some had abandoned their aspirations because it was too costly and difficult (e.g. Personal communication 1, 9 December 2015; Personal communication 5, 16 December 2015). This type of situation is related to what Carling (2002) calls ‘involuntary immobility’. Although some Tibetans were already granted refuge by Canada and Switzerland in the 1960s (e.g. Lauer 2015; Raska 2016), it was the 1990 Immigration Act in the USA, after which the Tibetan–US resettlement project (TUSRP) was established, that can be seen as the starting point for a wider-scale Tibetan migration to the West (Hess 2006; Yeh and Lama 2006; Personal communication 1, 25 March 2011; Choedup 2015). The programme granted 1,000 visas for the Tibetans in India and Nepal and these ‘lucky 1000’ were considered as ‘anchor relatives’; they established a base in the USA with a help of individual sponsors and their closest family members were given the opportunity to join them in following years (Hess 2009). The Immigration Act included both Indian-born Tibetans and the newcomers and its consequences were among the major triggers of the phenomenon that the Tibetans interviewed by Hess (2006: 86) called the ‘craze’ to go to the USA. Currently, the CTA has a programme where former Tibetan political prisoners and their families are given an opportunity to migrate to Australia, which means that it targets mostly newcomers and their family members in the diaspora, since the Indian-born Tibetans are not usually ex-political prisoners. Two of the interviewees in this study belonged to this programme. India has not signed the UN’s refugee convention nor does it have an official refugee law, but as Hess (2006: 82) states, ‘Tibetans’ “refugee status” is often referred to, indicating the understood de facto nature of Tibetans’ presence in India as refugees’. The CTA does not encourage Tibetans to seek Indian citizenship, although it could be technically possible for those who have been born in India or lived in India for a long time, and some Tibetans have successfully applied for citizenship (Hess 2006; Falcone and Wangchuk 2008). Most of the Tibetans have still followed the CTAs recommendation, which supports Tibetans staying as refugees, protects their separate cultural identity, and keeps their political struggle alive despite, for example, making it more difficult to obtain an official passport. As de Voe (1987: 54–5) crystallizes ‘the refugee paper is expressive of a cultural, ethnic, and national identity, an allegiance to the past, and a candid avowal of dedication to Tibet’s future freedom’. Therefore, it is interesting that, according to Hess (2006), the CTA has encouraged Tibetans to take full citizenship in the USA, because although Indian citizenship is considered a loss of identity, US citizenship is considered to be a spreading of the Tibetan agenda to wider political and international spheres. The interviewees in this study commonly explained that they had socio-political migration motives when they left Tibet but economic motives when they aspired to migrate from India, which resonates with Hess’s (2006) findings that better opportunities and economic reasons are among the major reasons that trigger the Tibetans to move to the West. This is not surprising as the newcomers often struggle with their livelihoods in India and have to accept low paid jobs in the tourism sector, for example, if they wish to get jobs at all. Hence, the interviewees in this study had difficulties covering their living costs in Dharamsala and considered their possibility of climbing the socio-economic ladder in India very poor. They also had difficulties in competing in the job market with those Tibetans who were born or grew up in India as they had gone through the Indian schooling system and tended to speak Tibetan, English and Hindi, whilst the newcomers usually spoke only Tibetan and sometimes also Chinese. Although it was generally appreciated that the lay newcomers under 30 years of age are offered full-time schooling opportunities for free in India, it is not enough for them to compete in the job markets with the Tibetans who grew up in India. Those Tibetan newcomers who are older than 30 or not interested in or capable of studying full-time can join grassroots NGOs, which provide language and computing classes nearly free of charge in McLeod Ganj (Swank 2011; Frilund 2015). The English classes offered by several NGOs are especially popular among the newcomers. Interestingly, several NGO managers openly stated that they provide classes in foreign languages, like English and French, not only because language skills help the migrants to adapt to the cosmopolitan nature of Dharamsala, but also because so many newcomers intend to migrate further (e.g. Personal communication, 23 March 2011; Frilund 2015). As Wissink, Düvell and van Eerdewijk (2013) state, NGOs are an important part of the informational and material resources that shape the opportunities of migrants. As Collyer (2007) found in Morocco, people in transit are often dependent on their social networks and these may direct their movement onward. Since tourists and travellers in Dhramsala are often interested in Tibetans and their culture (Frilund 2015), and many Tibetans are interested in migrating abroad, obtaining a sponsor or choosing a partner from the West or from a wealthier Asian nation seems to be one potential channel of migration for Tibetan newcomers (see also Prost 2006; Yeh and Lama 2006; Frilund 2014). I noticed during my participatory observations that some popular tourist restaurants provided a place and space with an international atmosphere for Tibetans to practise English and meet potential sponsors or partners. These types of social networks were important particularly for the newcomers as they usually did not have family members and other contacts abroad as most of their families usually stayed in Tibet. However, these were male-dominated scenes and it seemed that it was not as acceptable for the young Tibetan women to spend time in cafes or public spaces with foreigners as it was for the men. Although my main focus was the migration-related narratives and aspirations of the interviewees, not how many actually manage to migrate, I did discover during my last fieldwork trip in 2015 that at least seven young men of the 20 Tibetans from Tibet whom I interviewed in Dharamsala in 2009–2011 had left. One had returned to Tibet, one migrated to a wealthier Asian country, four to Europe and one to North America. All had spoken about their migration intentions when I interviewed them, and four had married a foreign woman. Moreover, one man and one woman, whom I interviewed in 2015, have been included in the quota of the ex-political prisoners who were granted visas to Australia (Personal communication 2, 13 December 2015; Personal communication 4, 16 December 2015). 4.3 Initial intentions and the time spent in the country of transit Current debates about the definitions of transit migration include questions concerning how long migrants stay in transit spots and whether their initial intention to migrate onwards is a suitable determinant; however, there is no scholarly consensus of what the concept includes and excludes. International organizations have often defined transit migration as migrants staying in a transit spot for less than a year but, for example, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has already abandoned this type of mechanistic definition (Bredeloup 2012). Düvell (2012) argues conversely that the policy-oriented definitions of international organizations tend to be blurred or vague and demands stricter classification. According to him, if people spend years somewhere, they cannot be called transit migrants anymore. I consider a short period of time as a problematic determinant although in the case of the Tibetans, their migration via Nepal to India tends to be rather rapid. The interviewees in this study usually spent just a few weeks, with a maximum of a few months, in Nepal before they were allowed to travel to India. Tibetan migration becomes more complicated and intentions more blurred in India and consequently do not meet the strict structuralist definitions of transit migration (e.g. Düvell 2012). Tibetans from Tibet often stay in India for years and it took approximately from five to 10 years before those interviewees I met in this study managed to migrate onwards. In comparison, scholars who study transit migration and related movements on the fringes of Europe usually report shorter times. The migrants studied by Wissink, Düvell and van Eerdewjk (2013) stayed in their fieldwork site for approximately three months before their first attempt to migrate further. However, at Collyer’s (2007) fieldwork site in Morocco the average stay was 15.4 months, although, for example, one of his Sub-Saharan interviewees had been in transit for seven years. Furthermore, Bredeloup and Zongo (Bredeloup 2010 cited in Bredeloup and Zongo 2005) met Cameroonian migrants in Libya who did not remember how long they had been in transit there. Those Tibetans who travel west from India tend to fly to their destination, which is often expensive for them and the flights even more controlled than the land or sea routes. Hence, the Tibetans first need to apply for a registration certificate (RC), which serves as residence permit in India (Falcone and Wangchuk 2008; Choedup 2015), from the local office of the GOI. It is needed in order to obtain an identity certificate (IC) from the CTA. The IC is needed if the Tibetans wish to travel legally and it was sometimes informally called ‘a refugee passport’ among the interviewees. Despite the usual difficulties experienced in obtaining these certificates (e.g. Hess 2006; Choedup 2015), all the interviewees who applied eventually received them. Therefore, I do not consider their migration truly irregular; although the category sometimes overlaps with transit migration (see Papadopoulou-Kourkoula 2008: 21). Nevertheless, it can be difficult to obtain an official visa with the IC as all countries do not accept it as a legal travelling document and the bureaucratic operations fluctuate; for example, one interviewee received his IC within a year whereas another had to wait for two and a half years (e.g. Personal communication 2, 13 December 2015). Consequently, strict timeline on a transit spot is a difficult determinant in the case of Tibetans from Tibet as the time spent in India also depends on these kinds of structures. Hence, buying a counterfeit visa to the West has become popular among Tibetans if they can afford one, and there is a certain amount of human trafficking of Tibetans in India (Choedup 2015). It seems as if Collyer (2010) has created his concept of fragmented journeys partly in order to avoid the strict structuralist definitions of transit migration, such as the demand for a short time period in a transit spot. He explains that ‘the characteristics of fragmented journeys highlight the drawbacks of viewing migration as a relatively rapid transition between defined points of origin and destination’ (Collyer 2010: 279). Hess (2012) also points out that it is difficult to define the average time spent in a transit hub, since some migrants might have made several attempts to migrate further, whereas others might settle for a while but never become real immigrants. This is because they do not want to adapt where they are and therefore they are constantly preparing to transit, as was often the case among the interviewees in this study. Hence, I follow Papadopoulou-Kourkoula (2008: 7) who argues, ‘the moment when the transit phase ends and becomes settlement’ is something that duration alone cannot define. It is rather a situation where the migrant relinquishes the intention to migrate and no longer acts in according with this intention Some scholars also consider that the initial intention to migrate further is an important determinant of transit migration (e.g. İçduygu and Yükseker 2012). According to Düvell (2012: 424), if migrants lack an intention to migrate onwards ‘from the outset’, they are not transit migrants, and those migrants who intend to transit but fail to do so become ‘(involuntary) immigrants’. However, some studies question the initial intentions to migrate to a third country as determinants of transit migration because it has led to the situation where, for example, aspirations, wishes, and possible deviations from the original plan are not really considered (e.g. Collyer and de Haas 2012; Wissink, Düvell and van Eerdewjk 2013). Moreover, migrants might not be interested in revealing their initial intentions, or might simply lie about them, since research could inform authorities or enforcement agencies (see Düvell, Triandafyllidou and Vollmer 2010). Sometimes the interviewees in this study did not want to reveal their migration intentions, at least not before some trust was gained between us, and long-term fieldwork was necessary or very confidential discussions were needed to discern their migration intentions and migration-related actions. Consequently, as I did not want to pressure the interviewees with questions about their initial intentions to migrate onwards from India, we just discussed their plans for the future and whether it included migration onwards or not. Nevertheless, I discussed these intentions in general with some interviewees from Tibet who I knew a little better and who trusted me the most. One of the key interviewees in this study, who I interviewed in 2010 and 2015, explained that: Yeah, first people they when they arrived here they say like they come to see His Holiness, we come to study and after that they’re going to change their mind. Yeah, I mean they realize that there is nothing to satisfy … I mean especially on economic (Personal communication 5, 16 December 2015). In a slightly similar vein, some of the Nigerian migrants in Schapendonk’s (2013) study in Istanbul had no initial intention of migrating further but were forced into transit because of the harsh living conditions there, i.e. they changed their minds after arriving in Turkey. There were also Tibetans among the interviewees whose migration intentions were very blurred and therefore resonate with Collyer’s (2010: 275) fragmented journeys when he states that ‘it is often not the case that entire journeys are planned in advance but one stage may arise from the failure of a previous stage, limiting future options and draining resources’. One example of this in the study was a young woman from Tibet who pondered on her chances to migrate onwards, stay in Dharamsala, or migrate back to Tibet as follows (Personal communication 14, 16 December 2015): I like the teachings of Dalai Lama, people really, really like, then home is …. what is this … I don’t understand my talk, my feelings, this very difficult. Then India is long time very difficult, I think that, yeah. Then I try go back, I don’t know. Some people say go other countries, go there, then I go back in Tibet, then it is very easy they say. She tried to adapt to India and acquire an income in Dharamsala by investing in a massage class in order to become a masseur. However, she still simultaneously pondered her migration opportunities; it was an unsure situation that caused her difficult and mixed feelings. Interestingly, she also pondered on the possibility to first migrate to the West and then back to Tibet. Here, Papadopoulou-Kourkoula’s (2008) definition of transit migration overlaps with Collyer’s (2010) fragmented journeys. According to Collyer (2010: 279), fragmented journeys ‘carries the logic of the journey in that it can only be justified by some uncertain future or an increasingly distant past’ whilst Papadopoulou-Kourkoula (2008: 5) argues that transit migration is a situation that ‘may or may not develop into further migration’. Transit migration highlights the onward looking and dynamic nature of migration and an unwillingness to adapt to a country that the migrant aims to transit, as when Tibetans from Tibet migrate via Nepal to India. It also seems that some Tibetans arrive in India with thoughts of trying to migrate onwards or pondering their possibilities to do so even though they also want to see the Dalai Lama and learn some English first. An interviewee from Tibet, who had crossed the border several times until the PRC officials confiscated her passport, was of the opinion that Tibetans usually arrive in India knowing that it is possible to migrate onwards (Personal communication, 18 December 2015). Moreover, a CTA official dealing with migration-related issues stated that the newcomers ‘just want to stay for a while’ and then migrate to other countries (Personal communication 2, 16 December 2015). He thought that the newcomers often already had transit possibilities in mind before entering India, just like an NGO official working with the newcomers, who thought that one reason why there are not so many Tibetans arriving in India than before is that they have easier access abroad directly from Tibet than earlier (Personal communication 2, 14 December 2015). When I discussed this with the above-mentioned key interviewee, he clarified the often blurred intentions of Tibetans from Tibet by using illustrative gateway and bus station metaphors (Personal communication 5, 16 December 2015): As I have told you, this is a gateway. We never think that this is our home, this is the place we live, I mean like the whole life. We never think like this. This is something like, ummm, bus station. We don’t know where we go. If we got opportunity we go west. And many people are seeking and try to get money and then borrow some money and try to buy, buy the visa. It is very costly. Consequently, I agree with Papadopoulou-Kourkoula (2008: 7) that the best determinant of transit migration is ‘the degree to which a migrant engages with the structures and opportunities in the receiving countries and invests in hopes, money, contacts and infrastructure in order to settle properly’. Those interviewees who had the strongest onward migration intentions, including most of those interviewees who managed to migrate after our interview, constantly talked about migrating further and were continuously making preparations for it to happen. These preparations included the RC, IC and visa applications, marriage plans, and foreign language lessons sometimes in various languages. Some of those who were the most determined to migrate were not as interested in obtaining (low paid) jobs in India, except as waiters in popular tourist restaurants where they would have considerable opportunities to meet foreigners and simultaneously learn English. Having a full-time job elsewhere would take much of their day without the possibility to concentrate on migration out of India (Frilund 2014). Some of these actions were not helpful as regards adapting to life in India, but they had a positive impact on their intentions and opportunities to migrate, and they did not really consider full adaptation to India an option. 5. Discussion and conclusion In this article, I have discussed the case of Tibetans migrating via Nepal to India and their migration intentions out of India, which sometimes included successful migration out of the country. I have built conceptually upon transit migration as it is the most common and established scholarly concept to describe migration via one place or several towards migrants’ possible final destinations. As Collyer and de Haas (2012) argue, transit migration is among the most dynamic categories of migration. By building upon this concept, I have explored the dynamism, onward-looking nature, and progressiveness of Tibetan migration as their migration processes and intentions have not been discussed from this perspective before. However, transit migration is a contested and blurred concept with certain political and Eurocentric connotations, as was discussed in the literature review (e.g. Collyer and de Haas 2012; Düvell 2012). Hence, it needs to be critically evaluated when it is applied to different contexts and case studies. I consider that Tibetans from Tibet can be seen participating in transit migration when they migrate via Nepal to India, which challenge the view that the concept should be used in the fringes of Europe only (see Düvell 2012; Collyer and de Haas 2012; İçduygu and Yükseker 2012). This migration process meets even the strict (although contested) criterion of initial intentions to move onwards and a short time period being spent in a transit spot (e.g. Düvell 2012). However, the migration intentions of the interviewees in this study were extremely heterogeneous in India, and Dharamsala cannot be seen just as a transit spot for the Tibetans from Tibet. It is a town where they come to see the Dalai Lama, look for education, and sometimes live permanently, despite that many intend or manage to migrate onwards. Nevertheless, there are clearly activities related to transit migration occurring in Dharamsala and some of the interviewees were focused, on a daily basis, on improving their chances to migrate onwards. I support Papadopoulou-Kourkoula’s (2008) view that the will to adapt to a country where the migrants stay and the processes where they concentrate their actions best define whether they are ‘in transit’ or not. Therefore, I consider these migrants as participating in transit activities despite the fact that they might have only developed clear intentions to migrate further just after arrival and even though it often takes them years to migrate onwards. However, as there is no single concept that could describe all the migration processes and intentions of the Tibetans from Tibet in Dharamsala, my major aim in this article was to discuss their transit migration type of migration rather than to strictly classify all their migration related processes. Finally, as Smith and King (2012) state, there is an urgent need to theorize migration from various perspectives and try to answer the challenges of the changing structures of migration in different parts of the world. As the current literature on transit migration is mainly Euro-centric, this paper has attempted to move beyond this by exploring Tibetan migration via Nepal to India and further. 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Migration Studies – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2019
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