Speaking to German reporters in the de facto capital of Tibet's exiled government, the Dalai Lama apparently said that "too many" refugees are seeking asylum in Europe.
"Europe, for example Germany, cannot become an Arab country," he said with a laugh, according to AFP, which quoted from an interview the spiritual leader gave to Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, a German newspaper. "Germany is Germany. There are so many that in practice it becomes difficult."
It was an unexpected extension of sympathy for a sentiment that has found fertile ground mostly among nationalist groups. The Dalai Lama, who often speaks of humanity's need to acknowledge its "oneness," is a refugee himself. After Tibetans rose up against Chinese limitations on their autonomy in 1959, the current (and 14th) Dalai Lama led tens of thousands of his followers to India, where they and their descendants have lived since. An estimated 120,000 Tibetans live in India, and those born in the country can vote.
"From a moral point of view, too, I think that the refugees should only be admitted temporarily," the Dalai Lama said.
The bulk of Arab refugees he was referencing are fleeing Syria's brutal and seemingly endless civil war, and its spillover into Iraq. But the truth is that the vast majority of those refugees are not seeking asylum in Europe, but in Turkey and two other Arab-majority countries, Lebanon and Jordan. Germany is a country of 80 million people and has accepted just over 1 million refugees. Before the war in next-door Syria, Lebanon had a population of more than 4 million people. It has since taken in well over a million Syrians.
Beyond the skepticism, the Dalai Lama did convey his characteristic compassion.
"When we look into the face of every single refugee, especially the children and women, we can feel their suffering," he said. "The goal should be that they return and help rebuild their countries."