Tibetan Refugee Reception Center

The Tibetan Refugee Reception Center in Kathmandu, Nepal. (Jonathan Green)

137 Tibetan protesters who were taken into custody by the Nepalese authorities on September 9, 10, and 11 have been handed over to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Kathmandu with the understanding that those who do not hold valid papers will be sent to India. Thousands of Tibetans have participated in months of protests in Kathmandu, often near the Chinese Embassy, against China’s crackdown in Tibet that followed a tidal wave of demonstrations across the Tibetan plateau this spring and summer. Beijing has urged the Nepal government to stop the demonstrations, claiming they are an irritant to China-Nepal relations.

The Nepal government has taken a series of moves against the Tibetan community in Kathmandu, in deference to what it says is Chinese pressure to stop activities by Tibetans that it deems as anti-China. In January 2005 it closed the Office of the Representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Welfare Office, both of which had been operational with the consent of the Nepal government since the 1960s. Tibetans perceive themselves as increasingly vulnerable under the new Maoist regime in power in Nepal, and many fear their status will deteriorate further.

The 137 Tibetans are currently at the UNHCR-funded Tibetan Refugee Reception Center in Kathmandu and have been required to present evidence of their legal status in Nepal. According to sources at the Reception Center, those who hold a government-issued refugee registration certificate (RC) or Nepalese citizenship will be allowed to return to their homes. Most of the Tibetans being processed are laypeople although there are some monks and nuns; the oldest is in his late fifties, and the youngest is 16. This is the first time the UNHCR has been involved in conducting such an investigation and is an indication of increased scrutiny from the Nepalese authorities’ of the Tibetan population in Nepal.

Tibetans without legal status will be deported to India. Tibetans who arrived in Nepal prior to 1989, and their offspring, are eligible to receive a RC, which allows them to remain in Nepal with certain limited civil rights. However, Nepal has been unreliable in the issuance of RCs and thousands of Tibetans who are eligible have been waiting for years for processing to resume. In 2000, the Nepal Ministry of Home Affairs told US Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues Assistant Secretary Julia Taft that Nepal would issue RCs to all eligible Tibetans. This has not been done.

Nepalese Home Ministry spokesman Modraj Dottel told news agency AFP yesterday that police and immigration department officials have been ordered to take action as the Tibetans have not stopped their protests despite repeated appeals from the government. “We have been forced to take this measure as Tibetan immigrants continued with their anti-China protests. We don’t want to spoil our friendly relations with China,” the spokesman said. “We will not allow our territory to be used for anti-China activity.”

China’s acute sensitivity over Tibet has been the primary feature of China-Nepal relations for some years and has been re-established with the new Maoist government. Prime Minister Prachanda was given a red carpet welcome in Beijing when he flew in for the closing ceremony of the Olympics ­ his first trip overseas after being sworn in on August 18. In Beijing, Prachanda reiterated his intention to support China on the Tibet issue.

ICT calls on the Nepali government to resume the issuance of RCs, which it stopped in the 1990s, to all those Tibetans who are eligible for legal residency in Nepal.

In the near term, ICT calls on Tibetans without legal status to consider carefully the serious ramifications of continuing protests at the Chinese embassy in Kathmandu.

ICT welcomes the concern that foreign embassies in Kathmandu are conveying to Nepalese officials, including that Tibetans should be afforded the right of free expression and assembly, and especially as the new Maoist government develops policies and procedures that may have long-term implications for Tibetans living in Nepal.