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Tibetan refugees in Nepal

July 1, 2010

Republica (Nepal)
June 29, 2010

Tibet seems to be Nepal’s constant worry. Not
because many Tibetans came to Nepal and got
settled here as refugees. Nor is it because some
Tibetans are illicitly crossing the treacherous
mountains and are descending on Kathmandu even
today. It is because Kathmandu is under constant
pressure from the Western countries and China
regarding its policy about the Tibetans who
illegally come to Nepal and use it as a transit
to a third country. As a small country and a weak
state, Nepal often finds itself trapped in the
conflicting interests of its powerful northern
neighbor and the West. Chinese authorities want
the Tibetan refugees, who cross the border and
make it to Nepal, to be locked up behind bars, if
not handed over to them. But the Western
countries want the Nepali state to provide
refugees a safe passage to Dharamshala in India and to the West.

It is time that Nepal had a candid conversation
with both China and Western countries and stated
its policy unambiguously. Nepal, as a democratic
country, has certain human rights obligations,
but at the same time, it also has its national
interests inseparably tied to present
geopolitical reality. We don’t want to default on
our democratic and human rights commitments, but
at the same time, we also don’t want to surrender
our national interest to the illegitimate
pressure from the West. Let us tell both the West
and China that we will provide exit permit, as
sought by UNHCR, to the Tibetans who make it to
the Tibetan Reception Center. A democratic
country cannot and should not deny rights to
refugees. But let us also tell them that we will
try to seal the northern border against Tibetans
trying to enter Nepal illegally. And if they are
arrested in Nepali soil, we will put them behind
bars and penalize them according to law, and
might even deport then back to their country of
origin. We understand that deportation is an
accepted international practice in case of
foreigners violating immigration laws.

The Western countries, especially the US and
Europeans, must understand that they have no
right to exert pressure on Nepali authorities to
deal with Tibetan refugees in a way that
undermines our national interest. We want to
remind the officials of these countries,
especially ones stationed in Kathmandu, how their
governments routinely make compromises with China
to safeguard their trade and other interests.
They seldom use leverage they have against China
on refugee and other human rights issues and
simply expect and often force weak states like
Nepal to take on China on these issues. This is
not just wrong but immoral too. If the West has
issues with China, it should deal with it at its
own turf. Nepal can no longer be a proxy for them.
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