Rinchen Dhondup, a devout Buddhist, believes "karma" brought him and his family to New Zealand.

He is one of about 45 Tibetans in the country, part of an ethnic group so small in number, it was classified as "Asian, not elsewhere classified" in the last Census.

Mr Dhondup, 40, came to New Zealand in 2004.

He said that although China claimed Tibet was part of China, he did not believe any ethnic Tibetans would identify themselves as Chinese.

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"We are very different to the Chinese, from the way we think to our written language.

"Many of us who live outside of Tibet are living in exile — we left after our nation fell to the Chinese in 1959."

He lives in a rental property in Avondale, next to a Tibetan Buddhist temple, with his wife Dechen Tana, 37, a cleaner, and daughter Tenzin Lhazey, 15, a student at Avondale College.

The "Asian, not elsewhere classified" ethnic group is made up of 1,233 people who gave ethnicities considered by Statistics New Zealand to be infrequently encountered or an uncommon Asian ethnic group.

Nearly nine in 10 had an affiliation to at least one religion. The most common were Hindu (36.9 per cent), Islam/Muslim (16.8 per cent) and Buddhist (11.7 per cent).

Mr Dhondup said most Tibetans were Buddhist, but few were vegetarians.

"In Tibet's harsh climate, we cannot grow vegetables so it is due to practical reasons that we have to eat meat to survive," he said.

Traditional Tibetan food, such as momo (dumplings), thukpa (soup noodles) and tsampa (roasted barley flour porridge) often has meat, or is eaten with meat.

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The Census shows that about three in four in the "Asian, not elsewhere classified" group were living in rental accommodation, compared with 37.1 per cent for the total Asian ethnic group and 32.9 per cent of the total New Zealand population.

Their median annual income was $9,500, down from $12,400 in 2006, and about one in five of those aged 15 years and over was unemployed.

Nearly half (49.5 per cent) were in full or part-time study, compared with 24.7 per cent of the total Asian ethnic group and 14.9 per cent of the New Zealand population.

Half the men and 48.6 per cent of women received income support.

For those who are employed, the most common occupations were labourers (24.8 per cent), professionals (22.9 per cent) and community and personal service workers (11.9 per cent).

But despite the statistics, Mr Dhondup said Tibetans in New Zealand were still far better off than they would be back home.

"We've lived in Tibet and India, and some time in Nepal," he said. "The conditions and poverty there are horrible, finding a job is not possible and even if you're dying in the street no one cares about you.

"Compared to these countries, New Zealand is heaven on earth, for us at least.

"I don't think Kiwis know how lucky they are."

Mr Dhondup said he kept the Tibetan culture alive at home by practising Tibetan Buddhist traditions, and communicating with his wife and daughter in the Tibetan language.

Know your 'not elsewhere classified' Asian neighbour

1,233 in the group; they have what Statistics NZ regards as infrequently encountered or uncommon ethnicities

88.2 per cent were born overseas

29.1 per cent lived in the Manawatu-Wanganui Region

85.8 per cent affiliated with a religion, most common were Hindu, Islam/Muslim and Buddhist

$9,500 median income