Kate Saunders of ICT has a piece out in The Sunday Guardian about the increasing difficulty Tibetans have in escaping to India:
Beijing’s influence over the Nepalese government, border forces, the judicial system and civil society at a time of political transition in Nepal signify that Tibetans in Nepal are increasingly vulnerable, demoralised and at risk of arrest and repatriation. Last year, Tibetan refugees, mainly women and including two sick children, had to hide in a forest in Nepal while Chinese armed police searched for them — after Nepalese police had started to transport them back to the Tibet-Nepal border. Tibetans in Nepal — the world’s second largest Tibetan community in exile after India — are experiencing harassment and extortion, more restrictions on their movements and greater difficulty securing education and jobs than ever before.
In one well-known incident in 2003, 18 Tibetans under UNHCR protection were taken from prison in Kathmandu by the Chinese embassy and driven to the border and into Tibet. Some months later, I met one of the young Tibetans among this group in a transit centre providing temporary shelter and food for Tibetans who arrive in exile. Among the mattresses on the floor and the sole possessions of the refugees in paper bags and plastic suitcases somehow carried across the most forbidding mountain ranges in the world, a young Tibetan boy was curled up in a corner, studying English letters in a notebook. Eighteen-year-old Gyaltsen told us that right after they were taken across the border, he and the rest of the group were manacled and driven to prison. He was beaten and tortured, and forced to carry out hard labour. After he was released, he risked further imprisonment by making the long journey into exile via Nepal again — determined to join his parents, who had arrived safely in India.
Despite his bleak surroundings, Gyaltsen looked immaculate in a smart, buttoned-up grey waistcoat and pressed trousers. I wrote what he said in my notebook: “Living in Tibet is like being in a very dark room, with just a glimmering of light that is the possibility of escape to India. I had to walk towards that light.”
Nepal is an essential gateway for Tibetans to escape from persecution into exile. Since a violent crackdown was imposed in Tibet from March, 2008 onwards, the number of Tibetan refugees reaching Nepal has decreased dramatically from around 2,500-3,500 a year to less than a thousand a year. Now, they are not only in danger on the Chinese side of the border, but also face new risks to their safety on the Nepalese side — despite an existing agreement with the UNHCR that should guarantee their transit to India.
Increasingly, there are indications that many of those in Nepal’s professional elite are concerned about China’s assertive actions in Nepal’s sovereign territory, recognising that acquiescence to Chinese demands directly threatens the integrity of Nepalese processes and institutions. Within Nepalese civil society, there are some moves to create legislation on the issue of status of Tibetans in Nepal and refugee rights.
Nepalese human rights monitors who are supportive of the Tibetans’ plight point out that their government’s actions run counter to close cultural and religious ties between the Nepalese and Tibetans dating back to the 6th century.
Again, this is one issue where American and Indian and UN pressure could counter Chinese efforts relatively easily, and produce real-world results for people who already have enough problems as is. I’d also hope that the Nepalese public might get a bit more active on rejecting Chinese influence- the gifts Beijing hands out always come with a huge price.