Monday, September 22, 2008

Time to Act for Tibetans in Nepal

The Tibetan Refugee Reception Centre in Nepal has been largely empty since the protests began in March. With increased Chinese People’s Armed Police (PAP) presence on the Tibet-Nepal border, and Tibetan citizens needing permits to move even small distances from their local area, few refugees have made it across the border. These tight restrictions on movement have seen the numbers of refugees leaving Tibet from Nepal and onwards to India to less than 100 refugees, with the centre often accommodating only long term refugees in the clinic, and no ‘newcomers’ at all. But this week, TRRC has been inundated with refugees, but with a difference- these refugees did not come directly from Tibet but have been living in Nepal for several years.

On September 9th, 72 Tibetan protesters were arrested after a ‘die-in’ protest was held outside the Visa Consulate of the Chinese Embassy. The following day, 42 Tibetans were arrested in the same place for performing political theatre, and 30 more Tibetans on the 11th. Of these protesters, 132 have been transferred from various jails around Kathmandu to TRRC near Swayambhu, West Kathmandu. All are facing deportation to India, for not possessing refugee cards, ‘RC’s’. It is estimated that at least 20,000 Tibetans are currently living in Nepal, but the actual number could be well over 30,000. Of these, less than 20,000 are believed to have RC’s and Nepal’s government is making it increasingly difficult to obtain and even renew RC’s on an annual basis. Nepal stopped allowing Tibetan refugees to settle in Nepal following diplomatic pressure after a flood of refugees fled in the wake of the 1987-89 Lhasa protests. Even many of those born after 1989 to parents who possess RC’s have not been granted RC’s. In an economically undeveloped country like Nepal, where for years the governments’ authority over its people has been undermined by in-fighting, corruption and inefficiency, accurate figures and statistics are often hard to come by. However many Tibetans live in Nepal, their presence is strongly felt, with strong cultural ties, and many Nepalese, such as Sherpa’s and Tamang’s following Tibetan Buddhism and cultural practices. Tibetans have played a major role in Nepal’s economy, kick-starting the carpet industry which for decades has been one of Nepal’s main exports. Furthermore, Nepal’s tourist board had often focused on Tibetan Gompas and its monks, and even advertised Nepal as the gateway to Tibet. With such strong cultural, religious and economic links to Tibet, one might wonder why the Nepalese government’s treatment of Tibetan refugees has sunk to this new low. One need look no further than the increased Chinese presence in Nepalese politics.

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