NEPAL PROMISES TO HAND TIBETAN REFUGEES TO UNHCR


2004-01-27
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U.S. congressional delegation receives repeated assurances

The Nepalese government has offered fresh assurances to a visiting delegation from the United States Congress that it will hand all Tibetan refugees over to the United Nations refugee agency in future, instead of to the Chinese authorities, RFA's Tibetan service reports.

"They gave us a commitment that they will honor their own written policy," Jon Stivers, a staff member with Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi's office, told RFA in a recent interview. "They would turn over Tibetan refugees to UNCHR and they will not be deported back to China." Stivers said the promise was made by both the Nepalese Home Ministry and the Foreign Ministry.

"The UNCHR certainly want to make sure that the Tibetan refugees are treated in accordance with what Nepalese authorities have always done in terms of turning over refugees to UNCHR. They would be closely working with the Nepalese authorities and the officials at the border area," Stivers told RFA.

"We made it very clear that US government is watching what happens with the Tibetan refugees and we will be watching very closely," he said.

Groups of Tibetans are frequently arrested for entering Nepal illegally. They are often on their way to the northern Indian town of Dharamsala, home of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile.

Wangchuk Tsering, a representative of the Tibetan government-in-exile in Kathmandu, said UNHCR officials had also told the delegation that they would tour border areas in an attempt to prevent handovers to Chinese police from happening again.

"They also met many of the Tibetan refugees who told their true stories," he said. "They convinced the delegation of the unfavorable situation inside Tibet which compelled them to escape at the risk of their life."

The delegation, which included Stivers, other staff from the Office of Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi and of Congressman Tom Udall, and House Minority Leader Cynthia Cook, visited Kathmandu and the Indian town of Dharamsala this month.

A congressional staff delegation visits the Tibetan government-in-exile every year, to "see the funtioning of the exile government and the utilization of the U.S. grant," Thupten Samphel, a secretary in the government-in-exile's information and international relations department told RFA.

Last month, Nepalese security personnel sent back to China a total of 21 Tibetans who crossed the border, in spite of previous assurances from the government that those fleeing Tibet would be treated as refugees and handed over to the UNHCR.

The UNHCR has helped other groups travel on to India. Around 20,000 Tibetan refugees have settled in Nepal, but the kingdom is careful to avoid angering Beijing and has refused to let the Dalai Lama visit. #####

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