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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."

Squeezed between China and West over Tibet

June 29, 2010

KATHMANDU, June 28: Department of Immigration (DoI) sent nine Tibetans to jail on April 30 after they refused to pay fines for illegally entering Nepal. The detention evoked so much diplomatic pressure from Western countries, mainly the US, that the Tibetans were released after five days in jail.

The pressure was so intense that officials at the Nepali embassy in Washington DC had to call up the Immigration Office in Nepal, asking it to release the arrested.


Following the release, Nepali immigration authorities have not detained any more Tibetans though there is a sustained flow of Tibetans to Kathmandu. DoI these days quietly hands over Tibetans illegally coming to Nepal to UNHCR-Nepal without taking legal action as it used to in recent years.

"We are in an awkward situation," say DoI officials, who wish to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the matter. "While one group of Chinese nationals entering Nepal after completing all legal processes are made to pay visa fees and a penalty in case they fail to renew their visa in time, another group of Chinese nationals entering illegally are rewarded for their unlawful deed."

Western countries and human rights organizations maintain that Nepal had reached a "gentleman´s agreement" to hand over to UNHCR-Nepal Tibetans coming to Nepal.

They argue that Nepal is also bound to do so under various human rights instruments, including the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture, to which Nepal is a party.

Nepal has recognized all Tibetans who entered Nepal before 1990 as refugees. According to a census conducted in 1993, the number of Tibetan refugees living in 21 various districts in Nepal stood at 12,540. Authorities say the figure might have reached 20,000 by now.

China becoming assertive

As China is becoming increasingly assertive over Tibet, Nepali authorities are sensing the heat and feel trapped between Western pressure and pressure from the northern neighbor.

China was less assertive about the Tibet issue in Nepal until Tibetans in Kathmandu spearheaded anti-China demonstrations here in March, 2008 to mark the 50th anniversary of a failed uprising against the Chinese annexation of Tibet in 1959.

China has since piled pressure on Nepal to effectively curb the activities of Tibetans in Nepali territory. China has even lobbied for deployment of the Armed Police Force (APF) along the northern border to check the illegal entry of Tibetans into Nepal.

Nepali authorities have also stepped up pressure against the Tibetans but with little success. Amid diplomatic pressure from China, Nepali authorities in March even unveiled a policy to send back Tibetans illegally entering Nepal, besides arresting and prosecuting those engaging in anti-China protests.

Tibetans continue trickling into Nepal through difficult mountain trails where there are no security outposts. The arrest of 10 Tibetans in Dolakha on June 2 illustrates this. They had evaded at least five police outposts before being caught by police in Charikot, district headquarters of Dolakha.

Officials in Nepal fear that there could be a well-coordinated organization involved in bringing Tibetans illegally to Nepal and later sending them to Dharamshala, India and to Western countries through the help of UNHCR.

The apprehension comes as arrested Tibetans said, during interrogations, that brokers brought them to Nepal with promises to take them to Western countries where they could lead comfortable lives. Those arrested even disclosed that they each paid Chinese Yuan 15,000 to 17,000 to brokers.

Tibetan Reception Center´s role suspect

There is a great difference in the number of illegal Tibetans arrested in Nepal and the numbers who have received exit permits from DoI at the request of UNHCR-Nepal.

While the number of those arrested and subsequently handed over to UNHRC stood at 199 in the period between mid-July 2009 and June 2010, Tibetans receiving exit permits go to other countries from Nepal stood at 670 during the same period, according to official data.

Two months back, DOI officials had gone to verify the Tibetans after UNHCR sought exit permits for 42 Tibetans. Only one of the 42 seeking exit permits had been arrested and subsequently handed over to UNHCR.

This raises suspicion that either the Tibetan Reception Center or police personnel are playing foul.

The Tibetan Reception Center, which is assisted by UNHCR, hosts Tibetans coming to it. Once the number reaches over 40, UNHCR writes to DoI for exit permits for onward travel to India and elsewhere.

UNHCR ´incentive´ to police

The UNHCR Office in Kathmandu used to have a separate Border Mission until a year ago and its vehicles would reach Miteri Bridge on the Nepal-China border to bring Tibetans entering Nepal to Kathmandu.

Though the Border Mission is now closed apparently due to government objection, UNHCR has devised another method to transport the Tibetans. Police who bring the arrested Tibetans to Immigration Office in Kathmandu are given a monetary ´incentive´, according to officials.

Government officials said UNHCR has been found providing as much as Rs 25,000 as ´incentives´ to police for bringing 10 Tibetans arrested in the border districts of Dolakha and Sindhupalchowk to Kathmandu. When DoI objected to this recently, UNHCR officials said it was an ´incentive´ to police to get the job done.

"Because of such ´incentive´ police officials are keen to bring the arrested to Kathmandu instead of sending them back home," said an official.

When contacted, officials at the Tibetan Reception Center refused to talk to this newspaper, saying they were not authorized to talk, and told us to contact UNHCR-Nepal.

UNHCR-Nepal Assistant External Relations Officer Nini Gurung, when contacted for official comment, also declined to comment, citing the sensitivity of the issue.

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