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Nepal should provide legal identity to Tibetan refugees

April 4, 2016

By Shreejana Shrestha


Rupublica, April 1, 2016: Over 500 'illegal migrants' from various countries are staying in various parts of Nepal, according to available data. These migrants entered Nepal on various pretexts over a period of time.

Records at the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) show that the number of such migrants, often categorized as urban refugees, has reached 533. However, the government doesn't have data on this category as it recognizes refugees from Bhutan and Tibet only.

Altogether 261 people from Pakistan were sheltering in Nepal as refugees as of March end 2015, according to UNHCR data obtained from MoHA. The second highest number of 'illegal migrants' by country is 156, from Myanmar. People from Sri Lanka, Somalia, Iran, Iraq, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Bangladesh are also among the 'illegal migrants'.

Under Secretary at the Local Administration Section at the Ministry of Home Affairs (MoHA), Kosha Hari Niraula, said that the government does not recognize refugees from any country except Bhutan and Tibet.

"We don't recognize refugees from countries like Pakistan, Iran, Iraq or anywhere else. They are categorized as illegal migrants and no law obliges us to ensure their resettlement or repatriation," said Niraula.

He added that people are entering Nepal thanks to the effortless visa processing and they overstay their visas for years on various excuses.

Nepal doesn't issue on-arrival visas to the citizens of 11 countries: Nigeria, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Cameroon, Somalia, Liberia, Ethopia, Iraq, Afganistan and Syria, and Palestine.

Neupane further clarified that UNHCR has categorized such 'illegal migrants', who have entered Nepal due to lack of security in their respective countries and other political problems, as urban refugees.

Officials at the National Unit for Co-ordination of Refugee Affairs (NUCRA) at MoHA opine that the penalty of five dollars per day for overstaying in Nepal should be waived for such migrants to facilitate their departure.

According to government data, there are 17,134 Bhutanese refugees and 12,540 Tibetan refugees remaining in Nepal. The government has carried out third country resettlement for 101,222 Bhutanese refugees.

However, Gopal Siwakoti, chairman of the International Institute for Human Rights, Environment and Development (INHURED), an organization working on human rights and refugee issues, told Republica that the government should provide legal identity to all refugees, be they Bhutanese or Tibetan, as a durable solution.

He also informed that there are around 9,000 Tibetan refugees languishing in Nepal without any legal status because of the diplomatic pressure from Nepal's northern neighbor, China. "The government should come up with a comprehensive policy in regard to urban refugees as we are not a signatory to the Refugee Convention 1951."

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