Uzra Zeya

Uzra Zeya, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.

The U.S. State Department reports a restrictive atmosphere for Tibetan refugees residing in Nepal. The findings are part of the Nepal section of the Country Reports on Human Rights for 2013, released on February 27.

“Tibetans continue to suffer a marginal existence in Nepal,” said Todd Stein, Director of Government Relations at the International Campaign for Tibet. “The installation of a new government in Kathmandu allows for the opportunity for advancing policies to help this community and strengthen the fabric of Nepalese society, such as providing identity cards to Tibetans who have not been able to get legal documentation.”

Regarding Tibetans in Nepal, the report found:

  • an overall restrictive atmosphere for refugees in Nepal was acutely felt by Tibetans;
  • Tibetans residing in Nepal retain few legal protections, limiting their ability to carry out a range of activities, including work, pursue education, and obtain official documentation, such as marriage licenses and birth certificates;
  • Police and local officials routinely harassed members of the Tibetan refugee community; and
  • Tibetans in Nepal were reluctant to hold cultural events due to the Nepalese government’s established pattern of interference.

The report found that Nepalese authorities generally adhered to established protocols for facilitating newly-arrived Tibetan refugees from Tibet. According to the report, 136 Tibetans had made the perilous journey across the Himalayas between January 01 and November 21, 2013. This number is a dramatic fall from an annual average of 2,500 to 3,500 Tibetan refugees prior to 2008. This drop is attributed to obstacles imposed by the Chinese government on freedom of movement for Tibetans in Tibet and stricter border surveillance on the Chinese side.

The number of Tibetans residing in Nepal is estimated to be around 20,000. Nepal is not a party to international refugee conventions. Tibetans without documentation who arrived in Nepal after 1989 are not recognized by the government of Nepal as refugees, leaving an already fragile community in an even more vulnerable state.

As a result of elections in November 2013, a new Constituent Assembly was formed to serve as a parliament and to draft a new constitution. On February 10, 2014, Sushil Koirala was chosen as Prime Minister. It is hoped that establishment of a stable government may allow for the consideration of laws relating to refugees and documentation.

Nepal, which borders the Tibet Autonomous Region in the north, is regularly visited by high-level Chinese officials and diplomats. Chinese officials have sought pledges from Nepalese authorities that they will limit “anti-Chinese” activities. In this climate, Nepalese officials tightly restrict the Tibetan community’s freedom of expression, and have forcibly returning Tibetan refugees in past years (for more information, see ICT’s ‘Refugee Report: Dangerous Crossing’).