The United States takes “seriously” the forced return by Nepal of Tibetans escaping their homeland to seek asylum outside China and is regularly discussing this issue with senior Nepalese officials, a State Department spokesman told RFA this week.
“[We] continue to urge Nepal to follow procedures that are fully consistent with its domestic laws and international commitments, including upholding Nepal’s non-refoulement obligations,” the State Department said, referring to the practice of forcing refugees back to the states from which they fled.
Nepal shares a long border with Tibet and is home to around 20,000 exiles who began arriving in 1959 when a failed Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule forced Tibet’s spiritual leader the Dalai Lama into exile in Dharamsala in India’s Himalayan foothills.
Under pressure from China, however, the government of Nepal over the last decade has tightened controls over its border with Tibet, discouraging escapes by Tibetans and sometimes returning Tibetan refugees by force to face abuse at the hands of Chinese authorities.
Nepal’s close growing political and economic and ties with China have meanwhile left Tibetan refugees already present in the Himalayan country uncertain of their status, vulnerable to violations of their rights, and restricted in their freedoms of movement and expression, rights groups have charged.
Banned activities by Tibetans in Nepal include elections within the refugee community and birthday celebrations for the Dalai Lama, who is regarded by Chinese leaders as a separatist seeking to split Tibet from Beijing’s rule.
Return to registration urged
Though a system of Refugee Identification Cards previously recognized Tibetans’ legal right to live in Nepal, Nepal’s government stopped issuing the cards in 1994, the Human Rights Organization of Nepal noted in a report released last year.
There has now been no registration of Tibetans living in Nepal since 1995, the State Department said.
“We urge the Government of Nepal to register and document all Tibetan refugees and ensure the timely implementation of Nepal’s planned registration and verification process of both the registered and un-registered long-staying refugee population.”
“Legal identity documentation for refugees should grant the right to work, own businesses, and ensure equal access to public education, health, social protection and livelihoods,” the State Department said.
Washington-based Freedom House rated Nepal “partly free” in its 2020 annual index of world liberty, with a score of 51 out of a possible 100. China was meanwhile rated “not free” with a score of 10, while Tibet got an even lower ranking of just 1.
“The authorities [in Nepal] are especially rigorous in suppressing any signs of dissent among Tibetans, including manifestations of uniquely Tibetan religious belief and cultural identity,” the 2020 report noted.
Reported by Tashi Wangchuk for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.