Category Archives: refugees

March 4th: TibetWatch

A few organizations are reporting either one or two self-immolations yesterday. RFA:

A Tibetan widow and a middle school girl set themselves on fire and died at the weekend in China’s Sichuan and Gansu provinces in self-immolation protests demanding freedom and an end to Chinese rule, according to sources on Sunday.

On Sunday, a 32-year-old widow and mother of three, identified as Rinchen, torched herself in front of the restive Kirti monastery in Sichuan’s Ngaba (in Chinese, Aba) prefecture, succumbing to her burns on the spot, the sources said.

She set herself on fire right in front of a Chinese police surveillance station at the main gate of the Kirti monastery, which has been under siege by Chinese security forces and from where hundreds of monks have been taken into custody since early last year.

On Saturday, a girl from the Tibetan Middle School self-immolated at a vegetable market in Machu (in Chinese, Maqu) county in Gansu province’s Kaniho (in Chinese, Gannan) Tibetan autonomous prefecture, an exile source said, quoting local contacts.

The Chinese vendors alerted the police who urged them to prevent her from leaving the market, the source said.

“The Chinese vendors at the Machu vegetable market threw stones at her burning body,” the source said, adding that the girl died at the scene.

“The Tibetans present in the market were agitated and this almost resulted in a major clash between the Tibetans and Chinese,” the source said.

I believe this is the first immolation to take place in Gansu, and I wonder if this might be what finally sets off unrest in Labrang. We’ll see how provincial authorities handle it.

High Peaks Pure Earth has a translation of a lengthy post by Woeser, which is dedicated to the Tibetan pilgrims who were put into detention after returning from India. Even by Chinese government standards this entire thing is extremely gauche:

When the initiation was concluded the faithful from inside Tibet dispersed and set out on the return journey to their homes there. They had worn themselves out just to get passports and their route had been plagued with hardship, until finally they obtained the nourishing nectar of the buddha dharma at the holy site. They had a brief moment of happiness, never imagining that there would be a later “settling of scores;” that this would set in motion an experience of mental and physical torment.

First, when they returned via Nepal, whether they arrived at one of several airports or at the border crossing point of Dram, they were all interrogated and searched by Chinese military and police. Buddhist ritual objects, such as scriptures, etc., that they were carrying with them as well as presents that they’d bought, such as Tibetan medicines, etc., were all indiscriminately confiscated.

It is understood that many of the faithful whose homes were in Amdo and Kham were taken as a group to Lhasa and sent together via the Qinghai-Tibet Railway to their individual regions. Afterwards each individual had to be vouched for by two cadres in their home areas. Only then could they return to their own families. In addition, the faithful from Amdo and Kham who have returned most recently from India and Nepal were placed under uniform supervision and sent to Shigatse to receive 7 days of “education.” Afterwards they were sent back home together.

And Lhasa: any Tibetans who attended the initiation encountered even bigger troubles. Of these, the overwhelming majority was elderly: retired cadres as well as urban residents and farmers from the outskirts of the city. And there were also middle-aged and young people. First they were summoned by their local neighbourhood committees or work units jointly with the relevant police station. Every person was interrogated by staff people from the neighbourhood committees or work units together with Public Security Bureau police. The important questions included: Whom did you see at the Kalacakra Inititation? What did the Dalai Lama, Samdhong Rinpoche and the newly-elected Kalon Tripa say exactly? Which people from here did you run into at the inititation? How much money did you give in offerings for the inititation, to the Dalai Lama and other Rinpoches? Etc., etc.

She continues on to describe everything China is doing to the pilgrims. Peter Ford from CSM on the acute difficulty of being a journalist in China:

The obvious way for a foreign reporter to find out what is really happening in Xinjiang or Sichuan would be to go there and talk to people. But that is not as easy as it sounds.

We are allowed to go to Xinjiang, but when I reported from there I found very few Uighurs brave enough to risk the punishment they feared if they were found to have talked to me. Never, in 30 years of reporting from five continents, have I found it so difficult to be a journalist. And after my return to Beijing, I discovered that plainclothes policemen had secretly followed me every step of my weeklong trip.

The government allows journalists to go to Sichuan, too, but police have set up roadblocks around the region where unrest is reportedly greatest, and turned back all the foreign reporters they have found.

A few correspondents have sneaked through the roadblocks, hidden under blankets or otherwise concealed (a shout out to Jon Watts of the Guardian, Tom Lasseter of McClatchy, and Gillian Wong of the AP, who have recently managed to get into closed areas), but they were unable to stay long or to talk to many people. They had to bear in mind that if they were caught, the people with whom they were caught talking would get into unknown amounts of trouble with the authorities.

Finally, a piece from Hindustan Times about Tibetan refugees in India:

Videos and photographs of the burning monks and nuns have circulated worldwide despite local authorities nipping the Internet and telephone network. Foreign journalists are barred from visiting the restive regions to verify what’s going on. The monks are coming to India, home to 100,000 exiled Tibetans, and disclosing their versions. Phuntsok mapped his journey from Kham to Lhasa to the border-town Dum to Nepal’s capital Kathmandu to Delhi to Dharmashala after surviving knuckle-crushing beatings and electric shocks for one month and seven days in a Chinese prison last summer. He was 17. The monk shouting slogans by his side was 15. Their crime: holding a placard scrawled with slogans for the long life and return of the Dalai Lama.

“The police and military came soon after my friend and I raised slogans,” he said. “I knew I’d be put behind bars. But I did it because being Tibetan, I felt like I had contributed something for Tibet.”

Since the Lhasa riots of 2008, which Beijing blamed on the Dalai Lama’s office, the China-Nepal border is so tightly secured that less than 1,000 Tibetans per year are coming to Dharamshala, compared to thrice as many before 2008.

Tibetans caught on the Nepal border are known to be sent to jails in Lhasa and transported back to their hometowns. An 18-year-old was the last monk to arrive from the Kirti monastery town in southern Sichuan — the locked down centre of the standoff between Buddhist monks and the Chinese military — to Kirti monastery in Dharamshala.

Wrapped up to his chin in maroon robes, he cited anxiety about the family he left behind and declines to reveal his real name. His fake name is Doung Tug, and within a year he has lost a half-brother and a classmate to self-immolations for the Tibetan cause. “I came to India to enjoy freedom, he said.

Talking about his half brother Rigzin Dorje, 19, Tug said, “His plan was to raise his own family and live the nomad’s life,” Tug said. Last month, he stood outside a school and burnt himself. As the boy ended his narrative of the Chinese military and plainclothes police inside monasteries and forced ‘patriotic re-education’ lessons to denounce the Dalai Lama, an older monk spoke up.

“Many more Tibetans, not just from Kirti monastery, but from all over Tibet,” said Kanyag Tsering, a monk in contact with his counterparts in China’s Kirti, “want to come to India.”

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Filed under ethnic conflict, India, protests, refugees, Self-Immolation Crisis, Tibet

“Up to 10,000 Myanmar refugees seek refuge in China”

Reuters reports that refugees from the fighting in northern Myanmar are spilling into Yunnan:

Up to 10,000 refugees have fled to an area in southwestern Yunnan province, driven by fighting between Myanmar’s military and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), one of the country’s most powerful rebel groups, five aid groups told Reuters. Many of the refugeees are women, children and elderly people.

Fighting erupted after a 17-year-old ceasefire broke down last June, sending ethnic Kachins fleeing to the border area.

Although the intensity of the fighting has eased, aid groups fear that more people will flee and exacerbate dire conditions. The Chinese government tolerates the camps, but does not officially recognise their existence.

The risk of fighting spreading across the highly militarised border region and of the arrival of new waves of refugees are particular worries for China’s stability-obsessed rulers.

Although long wary of poor, unstable Myanmar, China has invested heavily in the country. It has brushed off Western sanctions to build infrastructure, hydropower dams and twin oil-and-gas pipelines to help feed southern China’s growing energy needs and avoid the Malacca Strait shipping bottleneck.

Yunnan provincial authorities have told the refugees to leave, but have not threatened force or sealed the border, aid groups said.

“It poses a dilemma for the Chinese; it could cause strained relations with the Burmese government if they are seen as being supportive of the Kachin Independence Army, KIA, and by extension the refugees,” Bertil Lintner, a Myanmar expert, said in emailed comments.

“On the other hand, they can’t be too hostile to the Kachins, and the Kachin refugees, either.”

“At the moment, what we know is that there is no such situation,” Li Hui, director of the Yunnan information office, told Reuters. “Everything is normal on the China-Myanmar border.”

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“China’s Latest Bid to Flex Its Regional Muscle”

Ellen Bork has an article in The New Republic about Tibetan refugees in Nepal. The latest political developments might go either way for them, she says:

But the Chinese are influencing other aspects of Nepal’s relationship with their local Tibetan community. In response to Chinese pressure, Nepal has curtailed Tibetan religious and cultural activities and attempted to intimidate the local representative of the Dalai Lama. Just this year on October 18, two of the local representative’s aides and other Tibetan community leaders were briefly detained by police in connection with a memorial service for a former tutor of the Dalai Lama who lived in exile outside Kathmandu. At the same time, a U.S. State Department official visiting from Washington encountered a police presence while visiting a Tibetan settlement. And actions against activities Beijing calls “anti-China” tend to increase around the time of high level China-Nepal meetings. Any activity related to the Tibetan government-in-exile is especially targeted. Last year, Nepalese police seized 10,000 ballots cast in the elections for the exile government’s new Kalon Tripa, or chief minister. Public demonstrations in support of Tibet, ceremonies marking the Dalai Lama’s birthday, and even a Tibetan opera production have been shut down by Nepalese authorities. Conditions for Tibetans in Nepal are not comparable to those in Tibet, but the wave of desperate self-immolations inside Tibet has now spread to exile communities, with incidents in Kathmandu and Delhi.

So far, the issue of the treatment of Tibetans has not become a major concern among Nepalis. “That happens all the time,” I heard more than once from Nepalese political analysts and foreign policy experts. And China’s soft power expansion, including establishing Confucius Institutes in Nepal and courting Nepalese journalists with junkets to China, has had an impact on swaying attitudes. But some Nepalese journalists like Sradda Thapa, a columnist for the daily newspaper Republica, have argued that Nepal’s new democratic political situation ought to result in increased protection for Tibetans. “Did we not get an extensive makeover when the constitutional monarchy was christened a federal democratic republic?” Thapa argued in a November 3 column. “We are a sovereign state and it puzzles my generation—who were taught to value democracy—to witness our government deny the same to Tibetans in Nepal.”

Indeed, Nepal’s response to China’s demands doesn’t just speak to China’s increased influence in the region; it’s also an important indicator of the extent to which Nepal’s fragile democracy will prove capable of maintaining its sovereignty.

Obviously Chinese pressure will continue, but a government less inclined to reflexively favor China (instead of seeking to balance China and India) might not give in to them quite so often. We’ll see.

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“Difficult days ahead”

Worrying news from Nepal via the Telegraph Nepal, which reports that Chinese pressure may bring about even stricter controls on Tibetan refugees:

Reports coming from Ministry of Home Affairs have it that the Tibetan refugees living in Nepal will have difficult and trying times ahead. The government will soon review its policies on the Tibetan refugees that is likely to be more stringent, reports confirm.

Spokesperson Sudhir Kumar Sah of the Home Ministry tells Rajdhani Daily, November 13, 2011, that “The government is in a very difficult situation since the Tibetans have begun setting themselves on fire. The government of Nepal is committed on its one China policy. We will not allow any activities that go against the interest of our neighbors. This will lead to a situation where the government may have to slash all the facilities being granted to the Tibetans residing in Nepal, such as that of their freedom to move even.”

Sah also made it clear that the government may decide to put a ban on their business activities and their free movement.

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“Nepal releases 23 Tibetan refugees to care of U.N., rejects Chinese request to forcibly and illegally return them to Tibet”

Via ICT, some good news:

Today, Nepalese authorities turned over a group of 23 Tibetan refugees who had been held by the Department of Immigration to the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR). It is expected that the group will be processed and sent to India shortly, where they will come under the care of the Central Tibetan Administration, as per the well established system for handling Tibetan refugees fleeing into exile.

“This group is safe from the danger of being sent back to Tibet, thanks to the work of the UNHCR, Nepalese lawyers and NGOs, and governments, notably the United States and the EU,” said Mary Beth Markey, President of the International Campaign for Tibet.

The 23 Tibetan refugees had been detained by Nepalese immigration authorities since September 11-13. Under normal procedures, the group would have been promptly handed over to the UNHCR for processing and onward transit to India. However, the Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu intervened and demanded that the Tibetans be released into Chinese custody for return to Tibet. Such forcible return would be a violation of international law, given the credible fear of prosecution and torture of those sent back.

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“Chinese interference delays transit of 23 Tibetan refugees detained in Kathmandu”

ICT reports that we may have spoken too soon- apparently the group of refugees who crossed the border last week are being delayed now:

Human rights monitors and foreign diplomats in Nepal who monitor the situation for Tibetan refugees transiting from Tibet through Nepal are concerned for the safety of 23 Tibetan refugees in custody in Kathmandu, Nepal. The group of Tibetans has not been turned over by Nepalese authorities to the UNHCR, as per established protocols, and the Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu has written a letter demanding that the Tibetans be released into Chinese custody for return to Tibet.

The 23 Tibetans were arrested by Nepalese police on September 11-13 after they crossed the border from Tibet, brought down to Kathmandu and turned over to Nepal’s Department of Immigration (DOI) in Nepal. They remain in the custody of the DOI, contravening established protocols that Tibetans crossing into Nepalese territory are promptly handed over to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) for processing and onward transit to India. The group includes eight minors (ages 13-17).

According to local sources who have interviewed them, all of the Tibetans appear to be legitimate refugees and have given reasons for escape that are consistent with thousands of other accounts over previous decades, including to see the Dalai Lama.

Under the established ‘Gentlemen’s Agreement’ between the Nepal government and the UNHCR, Tibetans who enter Nepalese territory from Tibet are to be given over to the care of the UNHCR and expeditiously allowed to travel onward to India.

Tibetan refugees brought to Kathmandu are provided temporary refuge at the UNHCR-funded Tibetan Refugee Transit Center. Tibetans registered as “persons of concern” by the UNHCR enter a system administered by the Central Tibetan Administration through which they are placed in age-appropriate care and schooling or monastic institutions in Tibetan settlements throughout India.

Nepal should have just shunted them out quickly- the longer they sit there, the more interest their case will garner, and the more flak Nepal will receive from one side or the other depending on what their final decision is.

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Nepal arrests Tibetan teens for illegal entry

Tendar Tsering at Phayul has news that a number of Tibetans have been arrested by Nepal, which has recently been disregarding previous agreements on the treatment of Tibetan refugees thanks to pressure from China. It looks like this time they’ll be escorted safely through to India, though:

Barely weeks after Kathmandu assured Beijing of sustained crackdown on anti-China activities on its soil, the Nepali government arrested 20 Tibetan teenagers for entering the country illegally from Tibet, Sunday.

The Agency France Presse (AFP) reported that 15 Tibetan boys and five girls, aged 16 to 18 were stopped at a remote western Himalayan village in Nepal after crossing the border from Tibet on foot.

Nepali police started chasing them after they were seen at Pandusen Saturday night. They had reached the border district after trekking for 16 days.

According to the news agency, a police official is accompanying the teens to Kathmandu where they will be handed over to the immigration authorities in Nepal.

It is reported that the teens are expected to be given safe passage to India, which hosts the exile headquarters of the Tibetans.

Typically arriving Tibetans are given some time at the Reception Center, where a small medical staff treats them for any injuries sustained during the trip- cases of frostbite are common. Then they’re supposed to be registered and sent onwards to Dharamsala, India.

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Filed under Nepal, refugees, Tibet