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.