The Nepalese government has formally moved to close the offices of the Representative of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Refugees Welfare Office (TRWO) in Kathmandu. Both offices have suspended operations pending a resolution of this situation. In cooperation with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the TRWO is responsible for the care of Tibetan refugees transiting through and legally resident in Nepal. There are approximately 1,000 newly arrived Tibetan refugees currently at the Kathmandu reception center, which is normally operated by the TRWO.
A written notice was delivered to the representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Refugees Welfare Office in Kathmandu on January 21 by the Chief District Officer of Kathmandu, an administrative office of Nepal’s Home Ministry. The notice ordered both offices to be closed immediately on the grounds that they were not legally registered in Kathmandu.
The permanent closure of the TRWO would mean that the UNHCR would not have a legal implementing partner to care for the approximately 2,500 Tibetan refugees who transit Nepal annually. Under the current arrangement with UNHCR, the Tibetan staff of the TRWO are sent on missions to the border areas to ensure that Tibetan refugees are not forcibly repatriated by Nepalese security forces. At this time, TRWO staff is unable to undertake these protection missions. January is typically the peak season for new refugees to arrive in Nepal.
“We are extremely concerned about the situation of new arrival refugees in Nepal in light of these ominous events. The loss of either or both of these offices in Kathmandu would serve to worsen an already bad situation for the Tibetans living in and passing through Nepal,” said Mary Beth Markey, Executive Director of the International Campaign for Tibet.
Tibetan refugees transiting through and living in Nepal have been in an increasingly insecure position in a politically unstable Nepal over the past few years. The Chinese government has increased its direct political pressure on the Foreign and Home Ministries. China has also been strengthening trade links and publicly supporting the government in its conflict against a virulent Maoist insurgency.
During a recent congressional staff trip to Nepal sponsored by the International Campaign for Tibet, the Nepalese government spoke about increased Chinese pressure but gave no indication that they were preparing to take specific action against either the Representative Office or the TRWO.
China’s ambassador to Nepal, Sun Heping, said last year that the Tibet issue is “China’s major concern in Nepal.” In a May 28, 2004 speech to the Nepalese Council on World Affairs entitled: “China’s Foreign Policy in South Asia”, Ambassador Sun said: “We appreciate it very much that His Majesty’s Government of Nepal is committed to the one China policy, understands how sensitive the Tibet issue is to China and never allows any anti-China activities to be carried out on Nepali soil.”
Approximately 20,000 Tibetan refugees are currently resident in Nepal. This group faces many difficulties as they are not officially allowed to engage in self and wage-employment, nor own businesses and property. Both the TRWO and the Representative Office assist these refugees in matters such as renewing identity cards, communicating with the Tibetan government in exile in Dharamsala, India, and registering the birth of children.
“We call on the Nepalese government to allow both offices to register under Nepalese law and continue their important operations,” said Markey. “ICT will continue to work with concerned governments, and encourage them to support the Tibetans during this difficult time and use their influence with Nepal to roll back these efforts to close the Tibetan offices.”