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Congressional committee to restore US aid for Tibetans

By Lauren Chaplin  /  July 28, 2017;

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The United States Congress has approved a bill to restore US funding for Tibet. This decision represents a U-turn by US President Trump’s administration which made moves in its May budget to slash aid to Tibetans by 2018. The House Appropriations Committee, a body of the US Congress, approved the bill on July 19.

The news will be welcomed by Tibetans across the world. There was concern when the proposed cuts were outlined in the administration’s provisional budget; at the time, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi also expressed concern over the decision, although the US State Department highlighted that it would be facing some tough choices following budget cuts of more than 28%.

The funds approved by the Committee will be used to support “democracy and human rights programmes” for Tibetans living in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) and for Tibetan refugees residing in South Asia, especially those in India and Nepal. Although the final figure has not yet been announced, the bill recommends that the aid budget should be no less than it was in the 2017 fiscal year. In 2014, a Congress report disclosed that total US assistance to Tibet was worth USD $24m (£18.4m), although that figure has since been in gradual decline – a trend the Committee hopes to reverse.

Under the recommendations, USD $4.2m (£3.2m) will be given to Voice of America and Radio Free Asia, the only sources of independent information available to the people of Tibet. This figure also includes funds to continue Tibetan language services. Additionally, $1m (£750,000) will go to the Office of the Special Co-ordinator for Tibetan Issues within the State Department and a further $8m (£6.1m) will be used to preserve cultural traditions and to promote environmental conservation and sustainable development among Tibetans living in the TAR.

$6m(£4.6m) will be funnelled in programmes supporting Tibetan refugees living in India and Nepal, with a focus on developing skills, education, and entrepreneurship. An Economic Support Fund will be established to preserve Tibetan culture and aid the development of future Tibetan leaders, whilst the bill also recommends the continuation of Tibetan exchanges and fellowships, including the Tibetan Scholarship Programmes and fellowships for Tibetans from Tibet.

Although the figures have not yet been finalised, the Senate Appropriations Committee is expected to approve its version in the coming weeks. If all goes to schedule, the bill should be considered by the House and Senate and finalised before the end of September this year.

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