Attention is called to Inner Mongolia’s “Environmental Emigration”


Radio Free Asia

RFA Today’s Special Report

Since March this year, blotting out the sky and the land, northern China’s sandstorm not only has swallowed the whole region of northern China, but also reached Taiwan, Japan and even the west coast of America across the ocean. Northern China’s desertification problem is receiving attention from people around the world. In order to solve the problem, the Chinese government has adopted a series of environmental measures including a policy of evicting ethnic Mongolian herders from their lands. They have been resettled to other areas in an effort to relieve the burden on the grasslands and thereby restore the fragile ecosystem. However, the so-called “Environmental Emigration” policy has caught the attention of human rights organizations who argue that the “Environmental Emigration” will not really solve the problem but will destroy the already weakened Mongolian traditions. This is a report covered by Radio Free Asia correspondent Shi-Shan.

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When the Chinese trace back to the sources of the sandstorm in the Mongolian Plateau, they are surprised that the local ethnic Mongolian herders have seriously been victimized by sandstorms for long time. An exile in the United States, Enhebatu, president of Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center, said to Radio Free Asia: “Accelerating environmental destruction has deeply affected ethnic Mongolian herders’ lives, especially the successive years of severe drought has led up to the herders’ total bankruptcy. ” Enhebatu also provided the station with a telephone record revealing the current tragic situation:

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This is a telephone conversation between Enhebatu and an ethnic Mongolian herder in Shiliin Gol League’s Sunid Right Wing Banner recorded last year. Over the phone, the herdsman could not speak for a while for his sobbing before he said that most of his livestock had died during the drought and the rest are too thin to be sold. He told Enhebatu that, now, the herders in grassland have no way to make livings.

Located in the eastern part of Inner Mongolian Plateau, Shiliin Gol League, has 200,000 square kilometers territory which was known as the most well-preserved natural grassland in the world. However, now, the ecosystem in this area is getting worse. According to “The Northern Economy” published in China, in Shiliin Gol League, the deteriorated grassland area counts for 64% of the whole usable grassland, the soil eroded grassland area counts for 65% and the grassland area already turned to desert counts for 22% of the whole region. 2,969 square kilometers territory of Guun Shand area in Shiliin Gol League has become a mobile desert and is expanding with the speed of 60 square kilometers per year. Because of the accelerating speed of the desertification, especially the expanding speed of the seriously affected areas, most of the grasslands have become barren areas.

Current situation of Shiliin Gol grassland is just a miniature example of ecological destruction occurring all over the region. According to Xinhua News, usable grassland in Inner Mongolia is only 50 million hectares which is an 18% decrease compared to 10 years ago; The desert areas have tripled to 8.3 million hectares and are increasing 86,000 hectares every year. Ulaanchav Grassland, Horchin Grassland and Ordos Grassland which are three of the five largest grasslands in Inner Mongolia have almost completely disappeared and turned to sand.

Facing up to the tragic situation, the Inner Mongolian authorities have launched the “Environmental Emigration” policy. Currently, Shiliin Gol League is one of the main targets of this policy. An official from Shiliin Gol League Planning Commission admitted the fact that the comprehensive “Environmental Emigration” plan will start to be carried out from April of this year. But the official refused to reveal details.

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The so-called “Environmental Emigration” is aimed at the eviction of the herders from the desert lands. According to the government’s explanation, the policy could bring recovery to the land, as well as help herders to overcome their sense of hopelessness.

However, the plan has caught the close attention of ethnic Mongolian human rights organizations overseas. Enhebatu, president of the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center said this policy has not only deprived the ethnic Mongolian people’s right to own their native land, but has also destroyed their traditional culture and life-style.

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Enhebatu revealed that the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center has already submitted a communication to the United Nations in order to draw the international community’s attention to the “Environmental Emigration” policy. He is suspicious about the Chinese government’s claim of “volunteer environmental Emigration”.

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According to the Chinese official news media, 160,000 herders have already been “environmentally migrated” over the past two years and in the up-coming decade, 600,000 ethnic Mongolian herders will be forced to leave their native land under the “Environmental emigration” policy. An official from Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region Planning Commission also refused to talk about the “Environmental Emigration” issues when we interviewed him over the phone. Another official from the Economical Research Department of Inner Mongolian Social Academic Institution also refused to express his opinion on this issue because he said the “Environmental emigration” problem is an extremely sensitive issue.

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“Environmental emigration might be one measure to solve the problem but the government must accept most of the responsibility” said an exile in Germany, Mr. Xi Hai Ming (Temchiltu), leader of the Mongolian students’ movement in Inner Mongolia in the early 80’s and the President of the Inner Mongolian People’s Party.

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Cao Chang-Qing, an author in New York City, said all of the policies by the Chinese authorities including economical policies are suspect before the Inner Mongolians get their real autonomy.

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According to a Xinhua News report, over the past century, Inner Mongolian grassland has shrunk 200 kilometers to the north and 100 kilometers to the west. The main reason for the desertification of the grasslands is the large-scale over-cultivation since the 1950’s. Mr. Xi Hai Ming (Temchiltu) told the station that they had protested the policy of converting grasslands to farmland for the use of Han Chinese emigrants into Inner Mongolia. He said this is the only effective measure to control the environmental destruction in Inner Mongolia.

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“ In the foot of Moni Mountain, vaulting over Chilee Plains, the sky is so blue and so high, the land is so vast and so green, the fair wind shows you sheep and cows from the bottom of a grassy sea.”

This is a poem written a thousand years ago, describing the Inner Mongolian grasslands. However, today, the grasslands have disappeared, the livestock is dying and the herders are forced to move from their native lands to alien lands. Total destruction of northern China’s ecosystem has not only claimed Mongolian herders as victims. The expanding desert close to Hua Bei Plains is also affecting the whole nation of China. The roaring sandstorm is just the beginning of nature’s retaliation.

(Report by Radio Free Asia correspondent Shi-Shan, English translation by Enhebatu Togochog)