Hope fades for Tibetan refugees in Nepal

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS

Kathmandu : Thousands of Tibetan refugees had their hopes of asylum in the United States dashed with the Nepal government affirming its decision not to antagonise China.

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In contrast, tens of thousands of Bhutanese refugees languishing in the country for nearly two decades got hope for a new life with the process for their resettlement in the US starting last week.

Nepal’s newly appointed ambassador to China, Tanka Karki, said Kathmandu wanted to remain friends with Beijing and supported the ‘One China’ principle according to which Tibet and Taiwan are inalienable parts of the communist republic.

At the end of a tea party hosted by Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala for 10 newly appointed ambassadors, Karki said Nepal would take decisions on Tibetan refugees only after consultations with China, Nepal’s biggest private television station, Kantipur, reported last week.

Karki’s assertion practically demolishes a scheme by the US government to offer asylum to 5,000 Tibetan refugees in Nepal.

As part of its refugee resettlement programme, Washington had last year expressed its willingness to offer 5,000 Tibetan refugees a new home in the US but shelved the idea when the Koirala government rejected the offer under pressure from China.

Ellen Sauerbrey, the US assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration, who visited Nepal this month, had said her government would continue to be interested in the resettlement and hoped “the day will come in future when we will be able to work through this issue”, but the optimism seems to be misplaced.

Sauerbrey also acknowledged that the Tibetan refugee issue was a “sensitive” one for Nepal in view of having a “very strong neighbour” in China.

With new political developments unfolding in Nepal, the US — in a bid to have a strong presence in the Himalayan kingdom despite the Maoists forming the second-largest party in parliament — is going to respect Nepal’s “sensitivity” over the Tibetans to make gains elsewhere.

The new Nepal envoy’s statement also makes it clear that the resettlement project has been as good as scuttled since China would never agree to such a large number of Tibetans fleeing to the west.

China says there are no Tibetan refugees, only illegal immigrants who should be punished according to the law of the land.

The International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), a rights group campaigning for Tibetans’ human, cultural, political and religious rights, called it a “shame”.

“It is no secret that China is behind the unravelling of the US-proposed Tibetan refugee resettlement programme,” ICT vice president Mary Beth Markey told IANS.

“Nepal government officials have readily admitted as much. Tibetans and Nepalis have enjoyed warm relations for thousands of years and it is a shame that the Nepal government is brushing aside this long history of friendship to serve its task master to the north,” Markey said.