Tibetan refugees

Tibetan refugees stop for rest, after crossing a mountain pass on the Nepal-Tibet border.

Kathmandu, Nepal – Nepalese authorities yesterday handed down jail sentences to 18 Tibetan refugees apprehended by police on April 15th. The group now in prison includes 10 teenagers. Officials in Nepal’s Home Ministry have indicated their intention to deport the group of refugees back to Chinese authorities in Tibet.

Tibetan refugees stop for rest, after crossing a mountain pass on the Nepal-Tibet border.Two six-year olds and a nine-year old who spent the last three days in prison with the other 18 refugees are believed to have been handed over to the care of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) officials today.

Because the remaining 18 refugees did not have the money to pay the fines imposed by the Department of Immigration, they were given prison sentences ranging from 7 to 10 months.

The refugees were then taken to the Dili Bazaar immigration jail, where 8 other Tibetan refugees are already serving multi-year prison sentences for the same charges. One other Tibetan man is serving his sentence at Khar Guard jail on the same sentence. A total of 27 Tibetan refugees are now in Kathmandu jails.

A UNHCR protection officer spent the 17th of April attempting to gain the release of all 21 refugees on humanitarian grounds but was unsuccessful. It was not until the UNHCR officers departed late in the afternoon that the Immigration Department ruling was given and the Tibetans were taken to prison.

On April 17, after the group spent two nights in Hannaman Dhoka prison in Kathmandu, the Immigration Department issued an administrative ruling citing “illegal entry in the Kingdom of Nepal.” The six and nine year olds spent three days total in prison before being handed over to UNHCR officials.

Secretary Tika D. Niraula of the Nepalese Home Ministry indicated to human rights monitors earlier on April 16th that it was the intention of the Nepalese government to deport the recently-arrived refugees.

The deportation to Chinese police at Kodari at the Nepal-Tibet border would likely occur if and when the fines are paid or when the prison sentences have been served.

The group of 21 refugees from various areas of Tibet had crossed the 19,000 foot Nangpa la mountain pass in Solo Khumbu. They were on their way to Kathmandu’s Tibetan Refugee Reception Center when they were arrested on a public bus by Nepalese police on April 15th.

In the past Tibetan refugees arrested by Nepalese police have been taken to the Immigration Department in Kathmandu and handed over to the UNHCR. Since 1989 there has been an informal arrangement with the Nepalese government and the UNHCR that Nepal would allow the UNHCR to facilitate transit of new arrivals through Nepal to Tibetan exile communities in India. In the past this agreement has been referred to by Nepalese officials and human right monitors as the “Gentleman’s Agreement.”

“I do not know anything about a Gentleman’s Agreement,” Director General of Immigration, Subarna L. Shrestha told ICT today when asked why he didn’t hand the refugees to the UNHCR according to long-standing practice. “If there is going to be agreement on what to do with those Tibetans, I must see it in writing from the [Home] Ministry.”

The Director General of Immigration oversees all administrative rulings like the ones given in this case. Last year, a number of Tibetans who were arrested for the same reasons, have had their fines paid by NGOs and private individuals.

ICT is concerned that the payment of the fines to gain release of refugees has initiated a trend that will encourage further arrests of Tibetan refugees, and ICT has sought a political resolution to address the rising numbers of Tibetan refugees being jailed by the Nepalese Department of Immigration, which is under the authority of the Nepalese Ministry of Home.

The list of Tibetan refugees follows:

Name Gender Age Prison Sentence Fine
Tenzin Drolkar female 6 Released to UNHCR none
Lobsang Dawa male 6 Released to UNHCR none
Pasang female 9 Released to UNHCR none
Yeshe male 13 3 months $37.50*
Rinchen Dhondrup male 14 7 months $37.50 + 2,500** Nprs
Gyaltsen Wangchuk male 14 7 months $37.50 + 2,500** Nprs
Tenzin Nyima male 14 10 months $37.50 + 5,000** Nprs
Lobsang Jampa female 16 10 months $37.50 + 5,000** Nprs
Rigzin Dolma female 17 10 months $37.50 + 5,000** Nprs
Tsultrim Gyatso male 17 10 months $37.50 + 5,000** Nprs
Yonden female 17 10 months $37.50 + 5,000** Nprs
Thubten Tsering male 18 10 months $37.50 + 5,000** Nprs
Kesang Wangdu male 19 10 months $37.50 + 5,000** Nprs
Tashi Choden female 19 10 months $37.50 + 5,000** Nprs
Lobsang Phuntsok male 21 10 months $37.50 + 5,000** Nprs
Tashi male 22 10 months $37.50 + 5,000** Nprs
Lobsang Tenpa male 23 10 months $37.50 + 5,000** Nprs
Yeshe Tsangpo male 23 10 months $37.50 + 5,000** Nprs
Lobsang male 25 10 months $37.50 + 5,000** Nprs
Lobsang Tenphel male 28 10 months $37.50 + 5,000** Nprs
Gelek male 30 10 months $37.50 + 5,000** Nprs

NOTE: Fines total $1,713
*Fine for illegally being in Nepal
**Court imposed penalty. 2,500 Nprs. is equivalent to approximately $35