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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Time to Act for Tibetans in Nepal

September 22, 2008

Phayul
[Friday, September 19, 2008 13:04]
By Luke Ward

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.

Recent developments have been extremely worrying, with the former 
rebel Maoists being the dominant party in the Nepalese parliament and 
governing coalition. Prachanda, once the guerillas leader and chief 
spokesperson has recently been elected Prime Minister and is now the 
most powerful man in the country. The Maoists are seeking closer ties 
with the Chinese government, which puts Tibetan exiles in Nepal in a 
precarious position. China, as a major aid donor to Nepal already 
exerts huge pressure on the Nepalese government, as shown by the 
reaction of the Nepalese police to Tibetan protesters. In a supposedly 
'democratic' country, it is apparent that Nepalese politicians have 
placed greater importance upon their relation with China than the 
rights to freedom of expression and assembly. In the past twelve 
months especially, numerous Chinese-owned businesses have been opened, 
and much property has been bought by Chinese individuals and 
organisations. However, many of these businesses are believed to be 
little more than fronts for Chinese government spies. It is widely 
accepted that even some Tibetans are spying for the Chinese government 
on their own communities.

Since the protests in Tibet began on March 10th earlier this year, the 
Tibetans in Nepal have responded with unparalleled displays of 
solidarity. Despite facing often brutally violent repercussions and 
imprisonment, these brave Tibetans have protested more regularly than 
Tibetans and supporters in any other country. Not only have their 
protests been regular, but they have been well attended- with the 
number of protesters at Chuchepati on August 7th, the biggest 
gathering of Tibetans in Nepal being anywhere between 3,000 - 5,000. 
On August 8th, over 2,000 Tibetans were arrested, and on August 14th, 
over 1,300. Furthermore, they have continued the demonstrations 
despite heavy financial limitations, especially given the economic 
turmoil Nepal currently faces. Whilst the majority of countries have 
scaled down or stopped their protesting activities in the wake of the 
Olympics Closing ceremony, the Regional Tibetan Youth Congress and 
especially the 'Volunteer Organisation', as well as dedicated 
individuals have continued to protest in the past three weeks.

Quite simply, they have set all Tibetans and their supporters an 
amazing example, and for this, they deserve all of our applause and 
support. I personally have never seen any protesters as hardcore and 
dedicated as these Tibetans who turn up week in, week out, knowing 
they face the possibility of being beaten up and imprisoned. These 
Tibetans have been an inspiration and everyone in the Tibet movement, 
and everyone who would describe themselves as an activist. In the 
West- it's comparatively easy for us to attend a protest- we can 
stand, chant, do political theatre, and yes, there may be police 
restrictions, even a bit of mild shoving, and the very occasional bit 
of violence, but compared to Nepal it's nothing. Although we should 
not tar every Nepalese policeman with the same brush, in the month I 
spent before and during the Olympics in Nepal, I saw brutality, 
vindictiveness and malevolence to an extent I had never before seen 
with my own eyes. The Chuchepati protest on the 7th at times seemed 
more like a battleground than a protest site, but the violence was 
completely one-sided.

In the run up to and during the Olympics, exiled Tibetans and 
supporters put all their efforts into protesting directly against the 
Chinese government, and rightly so. But as Nepal moves ever closer to 
the Chinese government, this poses a risk to the 20-30,000 Tibetan 
exiles in Nepal, both those with and without RC. Already thousands, 
especially Tibetan youths are seeking to get abroad to America and 
Europe, but inevitably many more will get left behind. With the 
Nepalese government apparently taking an ever harder line against its 
Tibetan exiles, it is time to show our solidarity with them. They have 
inspired all of us within the movement through repeatedly turning up 
to protests, despite facing beatings and imprisonment, and have 
shouted the loudest when their brothers and sisters in Tibet were 
silenced. The Nepalese government cannot be allowed to pursue this 
racist and politically motivated marginalisation and repression of 
Tibetans.

These 132 Tibetans without RC's who are being threatened with 
deportation have their families, friends, possessions in Nepal, and 
risk losing it all. They will surely be banned from re-entering Nepal, 
and face great difficulties when they reach India, and will 
effectively have to start their lives from scratch. They will need to 
find new homes, new jobs, new friends- simply put, their lives will be 
turned upside down, and for many it will not be the first time, having 
left their homeland, occupied by the Chinese government. But what is 
perhaps more worrying is that this could be just the start. If the new 
government wishes to deport Tibetans- what is to stop them from the 
refoulement of Tibetans directly back to Chinese occupied Tibet? What 
is to stop the Maoists seizing and Tibetan settlements and businesses. 
What is to stop the Nepalese government from violating all of the few 
rights that had previously been granted to its exiled Tibetan 
population? Who will stop the Nepalese government from directly 
deporting future refugees at the border? For Tibetans in Nepal, the 
situation has never been worse- there is fear and insecurity, and many 
have genuine concerns that they will be handed to the Chinese 
government en masse.

We need to show Nepal that if it wishes to be a puppet to the Chinese 
government's meddling hands, they too will have to face the 
consequences and a backlash from exiled Tibetans and their supporters. 
Let us protest outside Nepalese Embassies, and even against the UN 
High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), who run the Tibetan Refugee 
Reception Centre for their involvement and compliancy in this 
atrocity. Get your local politicians involved, ring your country's 
Nepalese Embassy or representatives- do anything you can think of. 
Tibetans in Nepal have been a shining light to the Tibet movement, 
using almost every non-violent protest tactic in the book- from hunger 
strikes to political theatre, from mass rallies to peace marches. For 
this show of solidarity they have faced often brutal reprisals and 
imprisonment. For too long the situation for Tibetans in Nepal has 
been overlooked, but now it's time to act before it's too late.
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
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