The United States made a fresh plea to Nepal this week to provide identification papers to Tibetan refugees living in the country, but its request was flatly rejected by the government, which cited “geopolitical sensitivities” in an apparent reference to pressure from China.
Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake urged Nepal’s government to regularize the status of the country's Tibetan community during talks with Nepalese deputy prime minister and minister for foreign affairs Narayan Kaji Shrestha on Tuesday.
Nepal should “provide them documentation that would allow them to get jobs, to travel, and so forth,” Blake said in Kathmandu after the talks.
“We believe strongly that Tibetan refugees, like all people, deserve to lead lives of dignity and purpose,” he said, according to a text of his remarks provided by the State Department.
About 20,000 Tibetan refugees have fled Chinese rule to live in Nepal, but many now lack the official refugee identity cards that would allow them to pursue opportunities for work, travel, or education.
And Nepal’s powerful northern neighbor China has in recent years become more aggressive in urging Kathmandu to restrict the refugees' activities and help control the movement of Tibetans in both directions across the countries’ shared border.
In his talks this week, Blake urged Nepal to grant “refugee identity” to Tibetans living in the country, according to Nepalese press report accounts of his meeting with Shrestha.
But Shrestha rejected the request, declaring that Nepal is not bound by international conventions on refugees and has “its own values” in dealing with them, the reports said.
“We will extend the refugee status or take other necessary actions based on our own laws. We have our own values regarding the policy on refugees,” Shrestha said.
“It is necessary for our foreign friends to appreciate that our policies are guided by geopolitical sensitivities,” said Shrestha, apparently referring to Nepal’s reluctance to offend China.
Speaking to RFA, Mikel Dunham, a writer and expert on Nepalese politics, called Shrestha’s statement a “shorthand” description of a Nepalese policy of abject surrender to Beijing.
“[This] means that Tibetans in Nepal must remain silent, passive wards of a hostile China-controlled policy of repression,” Dunham said.
“Without identity cards, Tibetans living in Nepal are deprived of education, health care, freedom of speech, freedom of movement, and other basic services and human rights.”
Calling the United States’ commitment to protect Tibetans stranded in Nepal “commendable,” Dunham said, “The bottom line is that no progress has been made.”
Though Nepal refuses refugee status to Tibetans fleeing China’s rule, it does permit them in a so-called “gentleman’s agreement” to travel through Nepal on their way to India, with the help of the Kathmandu-based Tibetan Refugee Reception Center and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Speaking to the press in Kathmandu on Tuesday, Blake hailed Nepal’s “good record” in observing the arrangement.
Reported by Richard Finney.