By Luke Ward
An unconscious monk was on the receiving end of beatings by the Nepalese police even after he'd lost consciousness
The Tibetan Refugee Reception Centre in Nepal has been largely empty since the protests began in March. With increased Chinese People’s Armed Police (PAP) presence on the Tibet-Nepal border, and Tibetan citizens needing permits to move even small distances from their local area, few refugees have made it across the border. These tight restrictions on movement have seen the numbers of refugees leaving Tibet from Nepal and onwards to India to less than 100 refugees, with the centre often accommodating only long term refugees in the clinic, and no ‘newcomers’ at all. But this week, TRRC has been inundated with refugees, but with a difference- these refugees did not come directly from Tibet but have been living in Nepal for several years.
On September 9th, 72 Tibetan protesters were arrested after a ‘die-in’ protest was held outside the Visa Consulate of the Chinese Embassy. The following day, 42 Tibetans were arrested in the same place for performing political theatre, and 30 more Tibetans on the 11th. Of these protesters, 132 have been transferred from various jails around Kathmandu to TRRC near Swayambhu, West Kathmandu. All are facing deportation to India, for not possessing refugee cards, ‘RC’s’. It is estimated that at least 20,000 Tibetans are currently living in Nepal, but the actual number could be well over 30,000. Of these, less than 20,000 are believed to have RC’s and Nepal’s government is making it increasingly difficult to obtain and even renew RC’s on an annual basis. Nepal stopped allowing Tibetan refugees to settle in Nepal following diplomatic pressure after a flood of refugees fled in the wake of the 1987-89 Lhasa protests. Even many of those born after 1989 to parents who possess RC’s have not been granted RC’s. In an economically undeveloped country like Nepal, where for years the governments’ authority over its people has been undermined by in-fighting, corruption and inefficiency, accurate figures and statistics are often hard to come by. However many Tibetans live in Nepal, their presence is strongly felt, with strong cultural ties, and many Nepalese, such as Sherpa’s and Tamang’s following Tibetan Buddhism and cultural practices. Tibetans have played a major role in Nepal’s economy, kick-starting the carpet industry which for decades has been one of Nepal’s main exports. Furthermore, Nepal’s tourist board had often focused on Tibetan Gompas and its monks, and even advertised Nepal as the gateway to Tibet. With such strong cultural, religious and economic links to Tibet, one might wonder why the Nepalese government’s treatment of Tibetan refugees has sunk to this new low. One need look no further than the increased Chinese presence in Nepalese politics.
Recent developments have been extremely worrying, with the former rebel Maoists being the dominant party in the Nepalese parliament and governing coalition. Prachanda, once the guerillas leader and chief spokesperson has recently been elected Prime Minister and is now the most powerful man in the country. The Maoists are seeking closer ties with the Chinese government, which puts Tibetan exiles in Nepal in a precarious position. China, as a major aid donor to Nepal already exerts huge pressure on the Nepalese government, as shown by the reaction of the Nepalese police to Tibetan protesters. In a supposedly ‘democratic’ country, it is apparent that Nepalese politicians have placed greater importance upon their relation with China than the rights to freedom of expression and assembly. In the past twelve months especially, numerous Chinese-owned businesses have been opened, and much property has been bought by Chinese individuals and organisations. However, many of these businesses are believed to be little more than fronts for Chinese government spies. It is widely accepted that even some Tibetans are spying for the Chinese government on their own communities.
Since the protests in Tibet began on March 10th earlier this year, the Tibetans in Nepal have responded with unparalleled displays of solidarity. Despite facing often brutally violent repercussions and imprisonment, these brave Tibetans have protested more regularly than Tibetans and supporters in any other country. Not only have their protests been regular, but they have been well attended- with the number of protesters at Chuchepati on August 7th, the biggest gathering of Tibetans in Nepal being anywhere between 3,000 – 5,000. On August 8th, over 2,000 Tibetans were arrested, and on August 14th, over 1,300. Furthermore, they have continued the demonstrations despite heavy financial limitations, especially given the economic turmoil Nepal currently faces. Whilst the majority of countries have scaled down or stopped their protesting activities in the wake of the Olympics Closing ceremony, the Regional Tibetan Youth Congress and especially the ‘Volunteer Organisation’, as well as dedicated individuals have continued to protest in the past three weeks.
Quite simply, they have set all Tibetans and their supporters an amazing example, and for this, they deserve all of our applause and support. I personally have never seen any protesters as hardcore and dedicated as these Tibetans who turn up week in, week out, knowing they face the possibility of being beaten up and imprisoned. These Tibetans have been an inspiration and everyone in the Tibet movement, and everyone who would describe themselves as an activist. In the West- it’s comparatively easy for us to attend a protest- we can stand, chant, do political theatre, and yes, there may be police restrictions, even a bit of mild shoving, and the very occasional bit of violence, but compared to Nepal it’s nothing. Although we should not tar every Nepalese policeman with the same brush, in the month I spent before and during the Olympics in Nepal, I saw brutality, vindictiveness and malevolence to an extent I had never before seen with my own eyes. The Chuchepati protest on the 7th at times seemed more like a battleground than a protest site, but the violence was completely one-sided.
In the run up to and during the Olympics, exiled Tibetans and supporters put all their efforts into protesting directly against the Chinese government, and rightly so. But as Nepal moves ever closer to the Chinese government, this poses a risk to the 20-30,000 Tibetan exiles in Nepal, both those with and without RC. Already thousands, especially Tibetan youths are seeking to get abroad to America and Europe, but inevitably many more will get left behind. With the Nepalese government apparently taking an ever harder line against its Tibetan exiles, it is time to show our solidarity with them. They have inspired all of us within the movement through repeatedly turning up to protests, despite facing beatings and imprisonment, and have shouted the loudest when their brothers and sisters in Tibet were silenced. The Nepalese government cannot be allowed to pursue this racist and politically motivated marginalisation and repression of Tibetans.
8th August 2008 saw many Tibetans on the receiving end of Latthi charges
These 132 Tibetans without RC’s who are being threatened with deportation have their families, friends, possessions in Nepal, and risk losing it all. They will surely be banned from re-entering Nepal, and face great difficulties when they reach India, and will effectively have to start their lives from scratch. They will need to find new homes, new jobs, new friends- simply put, their lives will be turned upside down, and for many it will not be the first time, having left their homeland, occupied by the Chinese government. But what is perhaps more worrying is that this could be just the start. If the new government wishes to deport Tibetans- what is to stop them from the refoulement of Tibetans directly back to Chinese occupied Tibet? What is to stop the Maoists seizing and Tibetan settlements and businesses. What is to stop the Nepalese government from violating all of the few rights that had previously been granted to its exiled Tibetan population? Who will stop the Nepalese government from directly deporting future refugees at the border? For Tibetans in Nepal, the situation has never been worse- there is fear and insecurity, and many have genuine concerns that they will be handed to the Chinese government en masse.
We need to show Nepal that if it wishes to be a puppet to the Chinese government’s meddling hands, they too will have to face the consequences and a backlash from exiled Tibetans and their supporters. Let us protest outside Nepalese Embassies, and even against the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), who run the Tibetan Refugee Reception Centre for their involvement and compliancy in this atrocity. Get your local politicians involved, ring your country’s Nepalese Embassy or representatives- do anything you can think of. Tibetans in Nepal have been a shining light to the Tibet movement, using almost every non-violent protest tactic in the book- from hunger strikes to political theatre, from mass rallies to peace marches. For this show of solidarity they have faced often brutal reprisals and imprisonment. For too long the situation for Tibetans in Nepal has been overlooked, but now it’s time to act before it’s too late.