Tibetan refugees living in Nepal are under pressure to avoid asserting their national identity as their host country moves closer to its powerful northern neighbor China, analysts say.
An estimated 20,000 Tibetans now live in Nepal, though accurate numbers are hard to come by. Many arrived in Nepal following a failed 1959 Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule in which thousands fled south across the Himalayas.
Many still flee Tibet each year, hoping to transit Nepal to India, home of Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile.
As relations between China and Nepal grow closer, though, recent agreements and meetings between the two countries “can only be regarded as bad news for Tibetans,” said Mikel Dunham, a writer and close observer of Nepalese politics and frequent visitor to the country.
Dunham noted that in November, China hosted a two-week special training for Nepalese police to help them prevent “pro-Tibet, anti-China” activities and demonstrations from occurring in Nepal.
“Then, in December 2010, Nepal and China agreed to step up security along their mutual border areas,” Dunham said. “This is an obvious move to make it more difficult for Tibetans inside Tibet to cross into Nepal.”
“The general mood of Tibetan refugees stranded in Nepal is, as it has been for many years now, one of depression,” Dunham said.
“The only difference now is that the Tibetans are beginning to understand that, whichever political party wields power in [Nepal’s capital] Kathmandu, the government of Nepal will remain resolutely pro-Chinese and therefore only marginally—if at all—sympathetic to the plight of Tibetans.”
‘A sense of insecurity’
Mary Beth Markey, president of the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), agreed, adding that she now observes “a sense of insecurity among Tibetans, which is heightened at different periods of time.”
“There’s all sorts of anecdotal things, you know: Tibetans in Nepal will say there are a lot of Chinese spies here among Tibetan new arrivals.”
Even religious ceremonies and community gatherings by Tibetans are increasingly viewed with suspicion by authorities in Nepal, Markey said.
“I think that what you have is an escalation in Nepal of the Chinese interpretation of what’s going on in the Tibetan community as ‘anti-Chinese.’”
“And the Nepalis are inclined to be sympathetic to this viewpoint,” Markey said. “The Chinese have promised them important economic benefits.”
Though Nepalese authorities last year allowed Tibetans to observe a birthday celebration for the Dalai Lama, the event went forward only with restrictions, said Tsering Passang, sponsorship coordinator for the UK-based Tibet Relief Fund.
The event was held at the Tibetan settlement at Jawalakhel, outside Kathmandu, and “security authorities cordoned off the main entry points and arrested Tibetans coming from Boudhanath or Swayambunath to attend the event,” Passang said.
“Therefore, only Tibetan refugees living in this settlement, and those who managed to reach there by dodging the police, were able to celebrate the function.”
Passang noted, too, that Tibetan welfare societies operating in Nepal now avoid organizing large gatherings.
“Because it’s well-known in Nepal that the Tibetan refugee community faces ‘undefined’ restrictions, depending on the authorities’ call from time to time.”
Reported by Richard Finney.