The Dalai Lama is one of the world’s most popular spiritual leaders. His compassion, wisdom, and humour have won him fans and friends all over the globe. He is welcomed by both religious and political leaders who give him their time and attention. When he speaks, people listen attentively.
As well as the millions of Buddhists who revere him there are millions more who buy his books, contemplate his teachings, and listen to his every word. His reach goes far beyond those of the same faith.
He’s also a Tibetan refugee, so he knows a thing or two about what it is to be driven out of your home country by strife and violence.
He knows first hand how it feels to be a long term refugee. Along with many thousands of fellow Tibetans he fled his homeland in 1951 when the Chinese invaded and took over the country. He is now based in India.
Given his reputation for compassion and other qualities it may come as a surprise to some when they hear what he had to say about refugees in Europe.
On the other hand, if you imagine what might be the best possible outcome for those whose plight moves you, his words may come as no surprise at all.
Help those in need
He begins by recognising the humanity in those refugees and expressing compassion and empathy for their plight:
When we look into the face of every single refugee, especially the children and women, we can feel their suffering
Then, he moves on to practicalities and he balances the view with the recognition of those in the host countries:
A human being who is a bit more fortunate has the duty to help them. On the other hand, there are too many now,
Europe, for example Germany, cannot become an Arab country
..he said, according to the German translation of the interview in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
Germany is Germany
Return and Rebuild
He seems to recognise the strains placed upon the communities in the host countries who welcome in refugees:
There are so many that in practice it becomes difficult.
…from a moral point of view too, I think that the refugees should only be admitted temporarily.
The goal should be that they return and help rebuild their countries.
In short, he seems to be saying that we should of course help all those in need, show them compassion, and treat them with dignity and respect.
We should give medical, material, and emotional comfort and support to those who have suffered.
However, we should not maintain an open door policy and we should work towards the goal of returning most refugees to their homelands once the crisis has passed.
I suspect many refugees would agree. My guess is that many who have fled war would like to return to their homelands to rebuild their communities one day.
His advice speaks for itself, though it should be remembered that he’s talking specifically about refugees, not economic migrants moving from poor to richer countries, and not even asylum seekers who may never be able to return to their places of origin. The terms are used interchangeably, the stories are politicised, and the meanings are lost.
Real compassion isn’t selective. If you feel compassion for refugees and their plight then you can’t claim the moral high ground and dismiss the concerns of those affected by their arrival en masse, and yet that it’s precisely what happens.
In real democracies everyone’s voice is heard, even the voices of those you may dislike and those with whom you disagree strongly.