At a cafe near a Tibetan refugee camp in Nepal’s capital Kathmandu, Tsewang Dolma stirs her iced tea nervously as she talks of her fears for the future of her people.
She worries she will be followed home and arrested again, yet the 27-year-old is one of the few Tibetans in Nepal keen to speak about the government’s “hardline” approach to them.
“It’s not easy because we have no freedom. We are refugees here. Things have changed and people feel suffocated,” she said ahead of commemorations last Saturday to mark the 1959 uprising against Chinese rule in Tibet.
Campaigners believe the wave of protests against Chinese rule that began in Tibet in March 2008 and the resulting crackdown has transformed the attitude of Nepal’s government.
Arrests of activists in Kathmandu have become frequent in recent years and the periods of detention are getting longer, activists say.
In February, the Nepal police arrested 13 students protesting in front of the United Nations headquarters in Kathmandu, releasing them only after they had spent two weeks in jail.
“They were just taking part in a human rights protest and they were arrested. Before, when people got arrested, they would be released on the same night,” said Dolma, who has been detained twice in recent months. “We get information that they got orders from China to be kept in detention for so long.”
Nepal-born Dolma, president of the Nepal chapter of the Tibetan Youth Congress, said pre-emptive arrests and large-scale police deployment in her community were contributing to fear and insecurity.
For three decades, Nepal welcomed Tibetans into the country after the uprising, issuing them with refugee identity certificates. But the government has refused since 1998 to issue these certificates to Tibetans, including children born in Nepal to refugee parents.