Inner Mongolian Environment Threatened, Nomads Forced To Move


2005.02.07
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By: RFA correspondent Gardi Borjigin

HOHHOT, Inner Mongolia—In a desperate bid to save Inner Mongolia’s environment, the Chinese government has begun relocating more than 250,000 nomads from the rugged pastures they have roamed for centuries.

The government maintains that taking care of the environment will ultimately protect the herders’ livelihoods. The herders, however, see this new “environmental immigration” as further marginalizing a Mongolian nomadic minority already vastly outnumbered by Chinese peasants.

Since 1949, Inner Mongolia’s population has soared sixfold from 5.6 million to 23 million—with more and more farm animals as well. The environmental strain, worsened by years of overzealous tree-cutting and overgrazing, is turning an additional 386 square miles of Inner Mongolian grassland to desert each year.

Major losses, but of whose making?

The U.N. Environment Programme estimates direct economic losses from environmental damage in the whole of China at $6.5 billion annually, and the Chinese government is working feverishly to contain the problem.

That means little, however, to the nomadic herders of Inner Mongolia, who see the issue as a problem of the government’s own making after years of government-sanctioned Han Chinese immigration to the region.

Local government officials came and told us to move away this spring. They said we cannot return to our land for 10 years.

“Local government officials came and told us to move away this spring. They said we cannot return to our land for 10 years,” said Bayanduuren, an elderly herder from the Alasha region.

“We have no home, no business, and don’t know where to go. After 10 years I hope that I can return to my birthplace, but I’m not sure if I will be alive by that time. I don’t know. The future is so unclear,” he said.

In some areas, relocation meets with stiff resistance from herders, and local officials resort to police force to chase the herders away.

Resistance from herders

The Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center, a New York-based group, has reported clashes between local herders and police in Bagariin Banner in eastern Inner Mongolia in May 2001.

Nearly 100 policemen and security officers fought with bare-handed herders. Forty-one animals were confiscated, and four people were beaten up and seriously injured when the policemen tried to confiscate their livestock.

“Nearly 100 policemen and security officers fought with bare-handed herders. Forty-one animals were confiscated, and four people were beaten up and seriously injured when the policemen tried to confiscate their livestock,” a witness said.

“In order to move by a very close deadline, we had to tear down livestock shelters and homes and sell our livestock at very low prices. Because of the shortage of facilities and other infrastructure, it is extremely hard to make a living in the new place,” the witness said.

‘A tiny hut’ in return

An Uzemchin tribe herder from the Shiliin Gol League said officials “force us to abandon our land for three to five years. What they offer in exchange is a tiny hut in a town suburb and a one-time payment for the land ownership rights.”

If one wants to retain rights to the pasture, one is not given any money at all. I don’t know what to do.

“If one wants to retain rights to the pasture, one is not given any money at all. I don’t know what to do,” the Uzemchin herder said on condition that he remain anonymous.

Another herder from the Shiliin Gol League echoed his account.

“I saw the homes they build for resettlers. They are too small, just like a matchbox. The kitchen is the size of a cupboard. I have three children. We simply cannot fit in,” the second herder said.

“Even if I move in and decide to buy one milking cow, this alone will cost three times what they offer as compensation for the land,” he said.

Hundreds of thousands said to be moved

The Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center estimates that up to 650,000 nomadic people will be removed from their traditional pasturelands over the next few years.

Most…were resettled to agricultural or urban areas with a dominant Han Chinese population, with no suitable social, cultural, and language environment for ethnic Mongolians, and are being forced to engage in business and agricultural lifestyles instead of their traditional nomadic way of life.

“Most [migrants] are not properly provided for with food, water, housing, shelter, and medical services by the government,” the group said.

“Most…were resettled to agricultural or urban areas with a dominant Han Chinese population, with no suitable social, cultural, and language environment for ethnic Mongolians, and are being forced to engage in business and agricultural lifestyles instead of their traditional nomadic way of life.”

Currently, ethnic Mongols represent a tiny 17 percent of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region’s 23 million people, the overwhelming majority of whom are Han Chinese.

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