By Mark Govier, May 2012
According to a document entitled ‘Memorandum’, issued by the Tibetan Refugee Welfare Office (Kathmandu, 2011) ‘the population of Tibetan refugees in Nepal stands at 13,500 … (but) 50% of the Tibetan refugees do not have a Refugee Card…’ (1) This means they do not really exist, and stems from a policy enacted by the Nepalese government in 1989 which saw the issuing of such Refugee Cards ended. This meant, in effect, that ‘children born and brought up after 1989 and those who could not get their RC before the said date are today undocumented people…’ (2) As the document attests, even those with Refugee Cards, though they can remain in Nepal legally, are often denied the right to participate in local activities, and can face severe problems traveling to India, and other countries. This goes as far as declining to re-issue new driving licenses for RC holders. Further, the document states that ‘some developed countries have expressed their desire for third country resettlement project’ and there is an appeal to the Nepalese government to grant exit permits. (3) But what does all this mean, if anything? Is it just more cant, to obtain more support from various governments?
This document fails to state the reasons for the introduction of such repressive rules, making it appear as if they just somehow appeared, and can somehow be made to disappear. This, of course, is pure nonsense. It also fails to deal with what led the Tibetans to leave their own occupied country that, care of the Communist Party of China, has been decimated. This calls into question not simply the purpose of the document, but also the mindset of those who created it. To know more, I visited the document’s source, the Tibetan Refugee Welfare Office, in Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital. This is housed in a large and somewhat opulent series of buildings, by Nepalese standards, down a guarded and gated lane. On my first visit, I was taken to the large office of a senior official. He was reading a daily newspaper. He spoke to me briefly, then forcibly escorted me from the building. I was unable to have even take a casual look. I later saw him sitting in the back seat of a large expensive late model four wheel drive, with a driver. On the second occasion, I was again taken the senior official’s office. He was again reading a daily newspaper. In came an Indian man who is known as a ‘consultant’, though his actual position may be other than this. While the official continued to read his newspaper, I was verbally attacked by the ‘consultant’. I was told to mind my own business; told that the Tibetan refugees were all happy in Nepal; that no one wanted to leave Nepal, and so on. So why produce such a document? I was unable to ask, and left this dubious ‘meeting’ somewhat intrigued about what was actually going on. Is the Indian government actually behind the Tibetan Refugee Welfare Office? Are various governments playing politics with Tibetan refugees, and the matter of Tibet? Are ‘welfare’ and other organizations receiving remuneration from various government sources, as a result? Is Tibet a useful tool to attack the Chinese government with, to keep up appearances, while doing as much business as possible with China? And who really cares about Tibetan refugees, who seem to be mere pawns in such games?
Such matters are historically nothing new, of course. But it needs to be said that the UK government, under successive regimes and leaders, has engaged in a hollow public denunciation of China over Tibet, while at the same time pushing as hard of possible for UK business and products in China. The grim reality is that the UK has, for all the big anti-Chinese, pro-Tibetan words of its governments, only 800 Tibetan refugees resident in its borders. Some of these refugees have expressed serious concerns about what has been going on. But they are frightened to publicly say, in case the UK government makes things even tighter. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office declines to answer any reasonable questions put to it about the actual number of refugees the UK receives. It goes so far as to classify Tibetan refugees only as ‘Chinese refugees’. And the reason is: the UK government wants as much business as it can have with China. The rest is mere cant. Interestingly, the Canadian government is planning to take 1,000 Tibetan refugees.
It may seem reasonable to petition the government of Nepal, in some way or other, to try to lift such embargoes, and to permit Tibetan refugees to leave Nepal for other countries, or to remain as refugees in Tibet, with real rights. It may also seem reasonable to publicly condemn the government of Nepal for not so acting. However the reality is not so simple. Nepal is a tiny landlocked mountainous nation wedged between two vast superpowers, India and China. In the past, Nepal permitted the American CIA to back Tibetan rebels operating from Mustang, a small state that was part of Tibet, until the end of the 18th century. It later permitted Tibetan refugees to pass through its territory onto India, or to remain. However, such an action led to threats from China against Nepal. China, in recent years, has been offering and providing invaluable aid and technical assistance to Nepal which this poor nation is most eager to have. The unfortunate reality is that China has successfully placed further pressure on the government of Nepal to stamp down harder on Tibetan refugees, and their children. A part of this process has been the recent (and unpopular) banning of public celebration of the Dalai Lama’s birthday by Tibetans, and the putting down of public demonstrations against Chinese rule by Tibetans. The influence of China has increased significantly since the end of the Nepalese civil war in 2006. With the co-governance of Nepal by the Nepalese Maoist Party, this influence can and will only grow. So what can be done? Shall the refugees, especially those stuck in Nepal due to the 1989 legislation, be left to their own devices, existing totally outside of the law? Shall their children who have no legal status whatsoever, live half lives? This matter is important, and needs to be dealt with. The UK government needs to be petitioned, properly.
***1. ‘Memorandum’, Tibetan Refugee Welfare Office, Kathmandu, 201, P 16
2. Ibid, P 16
3. Ibid, P 20.