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Tibetan refugees dying 'by a thousand cuts' in Nepal

world Updated: Jun 19, 2010 17:23 IST

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Hunted down by armed Chinese security forces inside Nepal's territory and threatened with bullets by Nepal's police, thousands of Tibetan refugees in Nepal, including women and children, are living on the razor's edge, dying a death by "a thousand cuts", a report says.

"A fragile welcome: China's influence on Nepal and its impact on Tibetans", released by rights organisation International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) on Saturday, on the eve of World Refugee Day, depicts a dismal condition of Tibetan refugees in the Himalayan republic.

Even four years after the restoration of democracy, the continued political instability in Nepal and a series of weak governments have seen the republic's giant northern neighbour China create a stranglehold on the ruling parties, persuading them to ignore the "gentlemen's agreement" they had with the international community about Tibetan refugees, the report says.

There is a continued lack of morale and vulnerability among thousands of Tibetans in Nepal who are undocumented and therefore "illegal". While they are recognised as a legitimate community in Nepal in the context of centuries-old cultural, religious and commercial ties, most Tibetans born in Nepal since 1989 have no right to work or travel.

An official in Kathmandu describes the ongoing pressure on the Tibetan community combined with their lack of status as "death by a thousand cuts".

From January 2010, Nepali authorities have warned that Tibetans caught in transit from Tibet in Nepal might be "deported" to Tibet and in two incidents this year, refugees narrowly escaped being returned to Tibet.

Last week, Chinese armed police crossed into Nepal and hunted in the border areas for a group of seven starving and ill Tibetan refugees, including a seven-year-old girl and 12-year-old boy. The hiding refugees could reach Kathmandu only after the UN refugee agency as well as several foreign embassies in Kathmandu intervened.

In an earlier incident in January, Nepal's police caught a group of 22 fleeing refugees and tried to force them into returning to Tibet. When some escaped, the rest were mercilessly beaten up and their money and other valuables confiscated.

Chinese officials have also been visiting Nepal's immigration department to scan detained refugees.

Since the annexation of Tibet by China in the 1950s, Tibetans have been fleeing in hundreds to Nepal and India seeking religious and other freedoms. Since March, 2008, many Tibetans who participated in peaceful protests or expressions of dissent have escaped to avoid imprisonment in Tibet.

In the past, nearly 2,500-3,500 refugees made the dangerous escape, braving the freezing Himalayan mountains and being killed or arrested by Chinese border guards. But since March, with Nepal assisting China in the crackdown, the fugitives' number has plummeted to 600-800.

Besides threatening to fire on peaceful Tibetan protestors if they demonstrated outside the Chinese embassy in Kathmandu, Nepal's security forces are also engaged in relentless pre-emptive arrests of Tibetans, ID checks and house and hotel searches, causing a widespread climate of fear and insecurity among Tibetans in Nepal.

There is a large-scale deployment of armed police in Tibetan communities. This year, Tibetan monasteries, nunneries and schools were surrounded by armed police as part of pre-emptive measures to stop protests on the March 10 anniversary of Tibet's uprising in 1959.

The Chinese monitoring of Tibetans in Nepal is helped by a growing number of NGOs and religious organisations, assumed to have links with the Chinese embassy.

While Nepal refuses to provide refugee status to new arrivals, it also prevents Tibetans from resettling in the US due to Chinese pressure.

In 2005, Washington had proposed to resettle Tibetan refugees in the US. But Nepal's government rejected the offer after Beijing intervened, though it allows Bhutanese refugees to choose resettlement in third countries.

Beijing's iron grip on Nepal was evident in March when Nepal's President Ram Baran Yadav refused at the last minute to attend a Tibetan religious ceremony in Kathmandu after the Chinese embassy said his attendance would be construed as violating the "one China" policy that regards Tibet as an integral part of the Chinese communist republic.

Over 150,000 Tibetans live in exile, a majority of them in India and Nepal. According to the UN, there are 20,000 Tibetan refugees living in Nepal, mainly in the Kathmandu valley and Pokhara in western Nepal, with an additional 1,500 Tibetans living in "refugee-like situations".