Tibetan refugee

A Tibetan woman is dragged away by police in Kathmandu after trying to block a minibus carrying 18 refugees, including several minors, back to the the Tibet-Nepal border (Nick Dawson, Reuters)

At 5:45 am on Saturday, May 31, Nepalese authorities loaded 18 Tibetan refugees from Hannaman Dhoka prison in Kathmandu onto a Chinese Embassy vehicle, according to eyewitnesses. The refugees were reportedly in distress while they were loaded into the vehicle calling out to observers for help.

“Nepal is looking for world support, but it is not willing to uphold basic rights of refugees who are likely to be brutally tortured in a matter of hours once they reach the border,” said John Ackerly, President of the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT).

The refugees were reportedly taken out of the embsassy vehicle and loaded into unmarked vans and driven to the Kathmandu Police Club. Approximately two hours later, the vans departed from the Police Club for the Nepal-Tibet border along with the Chinese embassy van. It is expected that the 18 Tibetans will be taken back to the border town of Dram.

It is not known whether they are already in Chinese custody, however several Nepalese police are in the vans.

It has been reported that some of the refugees are very sick. ICT is concerned about their health, particularly because they will likely face torture and harsh treatment upon their repatriation to Tibet.

ICT is also concerned for three children who accompanied the 18 refugees over the border in April. They remain at a transit center in Kathmandu.

“We fear for the immediate safety of these 18 Tibetans but we are also concerned that China will be able to routinely remove Tibetans from Nepalese jails. This is a terrifying precedent,” Ackerly said.

The United States government made diplomatic interventions yesterday, which were apparently ignored. Several western governments and the UNHCR contacted the Nepalese Department of Immigration and Home Ministry to express their strong objections to the complete departure from the protection process for Tibetan refugees and Nepal’s obligations under customary international law regarding forced repatriation of Tibetan refugees.

“ICT calls on all governments not to just condemn this horrendous rights violation, but to ensure that Nepal does not close itself off to refugees seeking safe passage to India,” Ackerly said.

It is not known whether China’s increased pressure on Nepal is linked to the visit of the Dalai Lama’s envoys, who are now in Beijing.