Nepal sits on transit clearance for 23 Tibet refugees
Due to pressure from China, Nepal had so far failed to turn over to the UN refugee agency as per established protocols a group of 23 Tibetans it had seized over the period of Sep 11-13 after they had crossed into the country from Chinese ruled Tibet, said Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet Sep 20. It said the Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu had written a letter to the government of Nepal, describing the issue as one of ‘cross border human trafficking’ and demanding that the Tibetans be released into Chinese custody for return to Tibet.
The group said the Tibetans remain in the custody of Nepal’s Department of Immigration (DOI) in contravention of established protocols – a ‘Gentlemen’s Agreement’ between Nepal and the UNHCR – under which Tibetans crossing into Nepalese territory are promptly handed over to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) for processing and onward transit to India.
Mary Beth Markey, President of the International Campaign for Tibet, has warned, “The forcible repatriation of any among this group would violate Nepal’s commitment to the UN Convention against Torture, which bans returning any person to a state where there is substantial danger of torture.”
The appointment of a new Chinese Ambassador in Kathmandu, Mr Yang Houlan, in Jun’11 is seen as an elevation of the importance Beijing attaches to its interests in Nepal, with the Tibetan issue being a predominant part of it.
The group has alleged that Chinese authorities had taken advantage of the political instability, the rise of the Maoists, and the need for resources to develop Nepal's infrastructure to gain an unprecedented leverage over Kathmandu's treatment of the Tibetan refugee community. It added that Beijing's influence over the Nepalese government, border forces, the judicial system and civil society at a time of political transition in Nepal meant that Tibetans in the country were increasingly vulnerable, demoralized and at risk of arrest and repatriation.
The 23 Tibetans were travelling in two groups at different times. The first group, consisting of 20 people, was taken into custody on Sep 11 in Bajura district, western Nepal, after it had crossed the Tibet-Nepal border in Humla district. The second group was held on or about Sep 13 in Barabise of Sindupalchowk district, north-central Nepal. All were brought to the DOI in Kathmandu.
The group was reported to be made up of 18 males and five females, with two being in their 40s, 13 being between aged 18 to 28, and eight being 13 to 17 years old. To boost the chance of the Tibetans’ forced repatriation, the Chinese were reported to have promised not to take legal action against the youngsters but only educate them and to have accused some of the senior members among them of being human trafficking agents.
In 2003, Nepal forcibly deported into the custody of Chinese border security forces 18 such Tibetans, provoking an outcry from the UN and national governments, including the United States. Nevertheless, in Jun’10, it again repatriated three Tibetans, although the information came to light only after the incident had taken place.
Immediate Release of 23 Tibetan Refugees from Tibet!
Prime Minister of Nepal
Dr. Baburam Bhattarai
Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers
Dear Prime Minister,
We are deeply concerned about the plight of the 23 Tibetan Refugees (18 Males, 5 Females) who are in custody of Nepal’s Department of Immigration (DOI) in contravention of the Gentlemen’s Agreement between Nepal and UNHCR for processing and onward transit to India.
Their custody was based on the fact that it is an issue of ‘cross border human trafficking’ by the Chinese authorities. And to boost their cause of forced reparation the Chinese authorities have promised not to take any legal action against the youngsters but only educate them and charge the senior ones of being trafficking agents.
We consider them to be genuine refugees, in custody for expressing their willingness to live in a environment where they can peacefully exercise their human rights to freedom of expression, association and religion. We call on you to secure their immediate and unconditional release to the UNHCR. Their forced reparation would also subject them to torture.
The ongoing custody of the 23 Tibetan Refugees runs counter to the comments made by the Chinese authorities on the issue of cross border human trafficking and such abuse also contravene the very basis on why they took to flight.
We urge your administration to address such abuses with a view to ensuring a positive human rights legacy considering the fact that the forceful reparation of any among the group would violate Nepal’s commitment to the UN Convention against Torture, which prohibits returning any person to a state where there is a substantial danger of torture.