Tuesday, May 13th, 2008...10:04 pm

Tibet Refugee (Friend Post)

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My good buddy works at one of the prominent law firms in New York. He’s been working on an interesting asylum case as part of his pro bono work. I’ve been bugging him for awhile to write about it because it’s so interesting. The case was finally resolved yesterday and he sent out this note to his friends in an email. I encourage you to post your thoughts in the comments (as I have done) and I’ll be happy to put you in touch with my friend if you have any more questions.

Along with two friends at work, i’ve been representing a Tibetan guy (few years younger than us) in his bid for political asylum in the USA. As fans of the Beastie Boys and Richard Gere know, Tibet has been occupied by the Chinese since 1959. The Chinese majority (han) have done everything in their power to eradicate the “separateness” of Tibet. Tibetans speak a separate language, practice a separate religion (Tibetan buddhism) and are culturally very different.

The Dalai Lama is the world famous leader and face of the Tibetan people. He fled in 1959 from tibet’s provincial capital (lhasa) to dharamsala, India where he lives with (i think) 50,000 other tibetans, and dharamsala is the seat of the tibetan government in exile. In Tibet proper it is illegal to have pictures of the dalai lama and you can get into all sorts of shiz for dispalying the tibetan flag, pics of the dalai lama and otherwise advocating for a free Tibet. There’s been a lot of unrest lately which began when some monks in dharamsala (without the dalia lama’s blessing) decided to march to the Chinese border – the indian gov’t for the most part tried to shut it down in an effort to thwart any sort of confrontation with China along their shared border. While the dalai lama has advocated non-violence and has gone “hollywood” to reach his goals – Tibetan autonomy (not necessarily tibetan independence) – some of the younger Tibetan monks have recently decided to take a more confrontational and active approach. At the same time as this march to the border, violence erupted in the Tibetan areas under Chinese control – Tibetans started to riot, Chinese stores got vandalized – the Chinese army was mobilized, foreign media was kicked out, and many Tibetans were killed. People worldwide used the Olympic torch relays for the upcoming beijing games as a medium to voice their protest against the Chinese gov’t crackdown and in general express support for the Tibetan cause, leading many world leaders (including gordon brown of the uk and sarkozy of france) to announce their plans to boycott the opening ceremonies – which led to chinese counter-protests and what I’ll call “reflexive uber-nationalism”, and chinese boycotting of french retailer carrefour, and the mess is continuing and will unfold over the next few months….

anywhoooo – back to our case, which has been going on for some 8-9 months, all the while our client has been sitting in a detention center in Jersey. The extremely condensed version of the story is this – our guy put up a poster telling the chinese to get out, calling for tibet independence and the return of the dalia lama – and was caught and arrested and tortured in prison for 15 months. He got out by way of a bribe from his very poor family (like many tibetans they’re farmers) – and when the chinese kept harassing him, he fled and wound up (after a long journey) on a flight landing at jfk, after which a human rights agency got hold of him and referred his case to my firm. again, without getting into too much detail (some of you i’ve told the story to already) – our client’s story is really crazy and intense, and throughout our representation the gov’t and we have noticed some inconsistencies int he story which cast some doubt on his credibility (but ultimately his story was more credible than not, and he’s at the least been very consistent all along). The case was a procedural mess for a multitude of reasons and we’ve had the final merits hearing postponed 4 times, continuances, etc. and this case was resolved today when it was originally scheduled to be resolved last august. Fortuitiously (in an interesting twist of fate I guess you can call it), because of the recent uprisings, the current conditions in Tibet became a central issue in the case, and in general became (in our view) a public relations issue for the govt (ie. the gov’t does not want to be sending politically active tibetans back to china, especially now, when their fate would almost certainly be extremely dire). So – after months and months – this morning – we WON political asylum for our client, which means he can remain in the US, can work, can bring his wife over here, and eventually can become a us citizen. A big day. We brought him to the city this evening, along with our interpreter, where we met up with a “friend” of his who lives in Queens who he can stay with – he’s never met this friend before, but is originally from his home town and arrangements were made for him to help out.

There’s a lot more to this story and many ups and downs – but needless to say its been a powerful day (i forgot to mention that we had some waiting time today after the hearing so we went to the mall and saw the new harold and kumar…) and a crazy and rewarding experience. at the end of his direct examination, our client gave a really nice answer about the u.s. and what this country means to him as a place where you’re free to practice your religion and be free to live your life w/o harassment and oppression. It was cool to be reminded that that way that even though of late our gov’t has been disappointing and at times dishonest, our country is still a pretty amazing place to live and means a lot to so many people.

We’re continuing to work with our client and helping him out going forward – with legal matters but also with personal – and we hope to do some sort of bar fund raiser where people come and chip in some money to help him get settled (details to come, and any suggestions let me know).

And tomorrow – our client’s going with his new buddy to visit “the lady in the water with the crown” – there’s probably no better way for the guy to start his life here in America than that!

  • http://littyhoops.com Litty

    I’ve been very cynical throughout as I learned about this case and the prolonged process. It just seemed like too much bureaucracy, inefficiency and process to figure out the fate of this one guy. It overwhelmed this entrepreneur’s mind as I would have made a decision in five minutes and gone on to figuring out what to do with the next dude. As our new US resident can attest, the pursuit of justice under almost any circumstances is one of the many things that make this country so great.

    Congrats to Mark and his team and to the Tibetan, er, American guy. Do good brother. Make the most of your excellent legal counsel!

  • http://www.foreign-correspondence.com Katie Small

    Hey there,

    Congratulations on winning the case.

    Litty, I know it’s frustrating that the refugee determination process takes so long, but in New Zealand (where I am) it’s like that so that genuine refugees get sorted from those who are looking for a quick way into a first world country.
    (Very thorough investigations into the backgrounds of asylum seekers also helps against right-wing politicians who tend to harp on over here about “queue jumpers”.)
    We’ve had an interesting high-profile case here recently of an Iranian woman who claimed asylum because she’d converted to Christianity. She is being deported, which is pretty rough, because the Refugee Status Appeals Authority judged all the evidence and ruled (amongst other things) that she had converted in order to claim refugee status in New Zealand. It raises all sorts of ethical questions.

    Anyway, congrats again on the case and keep up the good work!