A new ICT report for release on June 20, U.N. World Refugee Day, documents dangers for Tibetan refugees transiting Nepal and for Nepal’s long-staying Tibetan refugee community. The report attributes these dangers to inadequate protections provided to Tibetans by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the government of Nepal, and to significant pressure from Nepal’s northern neighbor, the People’s Republic of China, to comply with its directives on the treatment of Tibetan refugees and their activities in Nepal. ”Dangerous Crossing: Conditions Impacting the Flight of Tibetan Refugees,” an annual report, covers developments affecting Tibetan refugees in 2010.
In 2010, security along the Tibet-Nepal border, enhanced in preparation for the lighting of the 2008 Olympic torch lighting on Mt. Everest, was further entrenched. The numbers of Tibetan refugees successfully reaching the Tibetan Refugee Transit Center in Kathamandu, in sharp decline since 2008, were slightly higher than in 2009.
In June 2010, a group of seven Tibetans, including a 7 year-old girl and 12 year-old boy, were pursued through Nepalese territory by Chinese armed police. In July, reports reached Kathmandu of the forcible return of three Tibetan refugees, apprehended and flown to Tibet by helicopter accompanied by a Nepalese politician and a policeman, was the first case of refoulement, prohibited by international law, since 2003.
Although Nepal is not a signatory to the U.N. Convention and Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees, the principle of non-refoulement – the prohibition against the forcible return of refugees to a place where their lives or liberty could be threatened – is an international norm and is specifically included in the U.N. Convention against Torture to which Nepal is a party. Tibetans who are forcibly returned face detention, summary torture, and possible imprisonment.
Mary Beth Markey, President of the International Campaign for Tibet, said: “China is demanding too high a price from Nepal. Nepal should not be compelled to abandon principles rooted in traditional and international norms so that China can extend its crackdown against Tibetans into Nepal. While Tibetan refugees feel the immediate impact of this approach, bending to China on issues of human rights and rule of law also presents a risk to the Nepalese people and their democratic institutions.”
The close historic, cultural and religious ties between the Nepalese and Tibetans date back to the 6th century. Himalayan Sherpa, Tamang, Dolpo, Mustang and other Himalayan peoples share the same devotion to the principles of Tibetan Buddhism.
The ICT report provides recommendations for a safer future for Tibetans in Nepal including that:
- The US, EU and other foreign governments work multilaterally to urge the Nepal government to implement a formal protection policy for refugees including to preserve the integrity of the Tibetan Refugee Reception Center and regularize the resident status of eligible long-staying Tibetan refugees, and on other Tibetan refugee issues.
- The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Kathmandu resume monitoring of border regions and training of local authorities in the proper treatment of refugees, and to intervene on an emergency basis when refoulement occurs.
Dangerous Crossing: Conditions Impacting the Flight of Tibetan Refugees is available for downloading.
1. On 4 December 2000, the United Nations General Assembly decided that, from 2001, 20 June would be celebrated as World Refugee Day. In this resolution, the General Assembly noted that 2001 marked the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. The day is dedicated to raising awareness of refugees globally. www.un.org/en/events/refugeeday/