by Claire Cozens
KATHMANDU, NEPAL - Nepalese police this month tried to forcibly repatriate a group of sick Tibetan refugees, some of them children, the International Campaign for Tibet alleged in a report released Saturday.
Tibetans are pictured receiving food at the Tibetan Refugees Camp in Kathmandu. Every year, hundreds of Tibetans make the difficult and dangerous journey across the border into neighbouring Nepal, fleeing alleged political and religious repression in Chinese-controlled Tibet. (AFP/File/Devendra Man Singh)
The Washington-based campaign group said the seven refugees, among them a seven-year-old girl and a 12-year-old boy, hid for days in a forest in Nepal after escaping police who had threatened to send them back across the border.
All seven were undernourished and the two children required urgent medical attention when they finally reached the Nepalese capital, according to the ICT, which said it had received reports of several such cases involving Tibetans.
Every year, hundreds of Tibetans make the difficult and dangerous journey across the border into neighbouring Nepal, fleeing alleged political and religious repression in Chinese-controlled Tibet.
Nepal has no asylum laws, but has always allowed them safe passage through the country to Dharamshala in India, home of their spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, under a so-called gentleman's agreement with the UN refugee agency.
There is no evidence that any refugees have actually been repatriated, but the ICT said there was a "disturbing inconsistency" in the implementation of the agreement, amid growing pressure from Beijing over the Tibetans in Nepal.
"Vigorous strategies by Beijing to influence the Nepalese government, border forces, the judicial system and civil society at a time of political transition in Nepal mean that Tibetans in Nepal are increasingly vulnerable, demoralised and at risk of arrest and repatriation," it said.
"There is also increasing concern about assertive actions by the Chinese authorities in Nepal's sovereign territory."
The ICT said armed Chinese police had been seen on the Nepal side of the border, citing sources in Kathmandu who were in contact with Tibetans in the area and who believed the police were searching for the group.
Nepal has boosted its border police over the past year, and there have also been reports of plain-clothes Chinese security forces harassing Tibetans on the Nepal side of the border.
The latest incident came to light when one of the men in the group managed to reach Kathmandu, said the ICT, which interviewed the refugee after he arrived in the Nepalese capital.
The United Nations refugee agency and several foreign embassies then intervened to secure safe passage to a UN reception centre in Kathmandu for the others, it said.
China is a major aid donor to its impoverished southern neighbour, home to around 20,000 exiled Tibetans who began arriving in large numbers in 1959 after the Dalai Lama fled Tibet following a failed uprising against Chinese rule.
Some 2,500 people used to make the dangerous trip every year, but activists say numbers have declined dramatically since the March 2008 riots in the Tibetan capital Lhasa led to a major increase in border security.
Jay Mukunda Khanal, spokesman for the home ministry in Kathmandu, declined to comment on the alleged incident except to say Nepal "respects Beijing's one China policy" -- that Tibet is an integral part of the country.
"Tibetans are not allowed to enter Nepal without a permit. If they are found on Nepalese soil without the proper documents, they will be dealt with according to our national laws," he told AFP