Since the internet first came to Dharamsala – capital of the Tibetan exile community in India – in the late 1990s, Tibetan exiles have forged an active online community, with Tibetan ‘netizens’ hailing from around the world. In a period of just over ten years, Tibetan exiles have created a heavily-used network of discussion boards, chat rooms, blogs and more. As a result, Tibetans in Australia stay informed on Tibetan government-in-exile politics, people from the same village in Tibet can reconnect in Taiwan, college students in South India can chat with counterparts in New York…. In essence, the Tibetan exile community online is a prime example of the growing phenomenon of what has been deemed the ‘digital diaspora’.
The internet has become increasingly important in the lives of many refugees but not all diasporic networks are as well established as the Tibetans’. In many ways, the Tibetan exile digital network is both a result and an illustration of what the 150,000 Tibetan exiles have achieved in the ‘real world’: the maintenance of a collective community, even after fifty years of exile.
The exile community has limited contact with the six million Tibetans in Tibet, who are largely cut off from the activities of the exiled government. However, in recent years, digital technology has allowed for increased connection between the two groups. In 2008, when protests erupted all over Tibet in response to the Beijing Summer Olympics, Tibetan exile activists and journalists relied on mobile phones and the internet for information that was then distributed throughout the exile community, and the world; in periods of calm, Tibetan exiles stay connected to their families and friends via Skype and other technologies. Security risks for Tibetans in Tibet itself remain high, however, and communication is still limited.
Emma Tobin (firstname.lastname@example.org) was an MSc student in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies at the Refugee Studies Centre 2010-11 and is Junior Field Editor for the Oxford Monitor of Forced Migration.