Kathmandu – On November 18, 2003, nine Tibetan refugees serving lengthy jail sentences for violating Nepal’s immigration law were released into the care of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Kathmandu and sent to the Tibetan Refugee Reception Centre.
The release came after a well wisher who wishes to remain anonymous paid the refugees’ fines following the failure of repeated humanitarian, legal and royal pardon appeals to the Nepal Government for amnesty over the last two years.
The nine refugees included four students, four Buddhist monks and an unemployed layman. They were arrested at different times in 2000 and 2001 and given 10-year prison sentences after they were unable to pay the fines and visa fees imposed on each of them.
In June 2000, Nepalese border police arrested a Tibetan monk just south of the Nepal-Tibet border while he was attempting to return to Tibet. Nepal police arrested two other monks on 20 August 2001 in a restaurant in Boudhnath, a Tibetan area of Kathmandu, for failing to possess appropriate residential documents.
The four students were arrested on 22 August 2001 by Nepalese security personnel at an India-Nepal border check point as they were attempting to pass through Nepal on return to Tibet after schooling in India. An additional four female students were arrested at the time, including one woman who gave birth in Dili Bazaar prison. After six months, humanitarian organizations paid the fines and the women and baby were released. All the students were arrested on charges of illegal immigration.
Two other Tibetans, another monk and a lay man, were arrested in May 2002, also in Boudhnath, for illegally residing in Nepal.
Significant fines, well beyond their means, were imposed on each of the nine and non-payment carried a default sentence of 10 years imprisonment.
In the past, similar incidents of the arrests of Tibetans in Nepal have also elicited payments of legal fees and exorbitant fines imposed by Nepal’s Department of Immigration by relatives or friends of the imprisoned refugees or by western non-governmental organizations.
In August 2003 the government of Nepal adopted a new policy on Tibetan Refugees. The policy formalizes a system of cooperation with the office of the UNHCR in Kathmandu on the processing and safe transit of Tibetan refugees through Nepal and guarantees that “Nepal will not forcibly return any asylum seekers from its soil.” Tibetan refugees are not allowed to legally reside in Nepal.
In August 2003 the government of Nepal adopted a new policy on Tibetan refugees. The policy formalizes a system of cooperation with the office of the UNHCR in Kathmandu on the processing and safe transit of Tibetan refugees through Nepal and guarantees that “Nepal will not forcibly return any asylum seekers from its soil.” Tibetan refugees are not allowed to legally reside in Nepal.
According to a November 14, 2003, AFP report the Chinese Ambassador to Nepal called for a stop to of Tibetan refugees into Nepal. According to the AFP, “Ambassador Sun Heping declined to use the term ‘refugee,’ instead calling the Tibetans who enter Nepal without proper papers Chinese illegal immigrants.”
AFP also quoted Sun as saying, “We are going to make necessary arrangements to stop such illegal immigrants.”
Over the last dozen years, approximately 2,500 Tibetan refugees annually pass through Nepal to India, although that number has decreased in recent years. For a fuller discussion of the flight of Tibetan Refugees, see the “Dangerous Crossing” reports of the International Campaign for Tibet on conditions impacting the flight of Tibetan Refugees.