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41 Tibetan refugees still at risk following release by Nepalese police

November 21, 2016

By Edward Wong

New York Times, November 18, 2016 - Forty-one Tibetans who were detained by the Nepalese police while they were on a bus bound for India have been released to a Nepalese human rights group, an advocated for Tibetan rights said Friday.

The advocate, Kate Saunders, of the International Campaign for Tibet, said early Friday in London that the human rights group, the Human Rights Organization of Nepal, and other contacts in Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital, had told her that immigration officials and the police had allowed all the Tibetans to be released.

Ms. Saunders said the Tibetans were mostly from Kham and Amdo, Tibetan regions now ruled by China, and were on a pilgrimage to sacred sites in Nepal and India. It is likely that they planned to go in January to an important Buddhist ceremony, the Kalachakra teaching, in Bodh Gaya, an Indian city, she said.

It is unclear what those Tibetans will do now. They could end up at the Kathmandu transit center of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. From there, many Tibetans make their way to India, against China’s wishes. Ms. Saunders said the Tibetans were in a “very precarious situation.”

The Human Rights Organization of Nepal did not respond to an email asking for an update on the situation of the Tibetans.

The Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Tibetans, is expected to teach at the Kalachakra gathering from Jan. 3 to Jan. 14. He offers this teaching regularly at different places, and many Tibetans try to make their way to Bodh Gaya, the site where the Buddha attained enlightenment, when the Dalai Lama travels there from his home in northern India to teach.

In 2012, Chinese security officials detained hundreds of Tibetans after they returned from the Kalachakra in Bodh Gaya. Many of them were released later. The Chinese government opposes the Dalai Lama and calls him a “splittist,” but Tibetans remain devoted to him, and many try to travel to India to see him.

Since a widespread uprising across Tibetan regions in 2008, the Chinese government has increased its security presence on the Tibet-Nepal border and has prevented many Tibetans from leaving. The number of Tibetans making their way to Nepal has plummeted. China is also exercising greater influence over Nepal, and Tibetans in Nepal complain of more detentions there and a ban on anti-China protests.

Ms. Saunders said Chinese officials were making great efforts to prevent Tibetans from traveling to Bodh Gaya this year for the Dalai Lama’s teaching.

“What we know is that the Chinese authorities have tightened controls on Tibetans, in some areas going from house to house to confiscate people’s passports,” she said.

“In the last few weeks, government officials have confiscated passports in the Tibetan areas of Qinghai and Gansu, and according to some sources, also in Sichuan and the Tibet Autonomous Region,” she added. “Some Tibetans who have already arrived in Nepal and India for pilgrimage and for attending the religious ceremony in Bodh Gaya have already been ordered to return, and their families pressured by the authorities.”

“So no doubt for this group of 41, things will be very difficult,” she said, “particularly given that they will now be on the radar of the Chinese authorities in Nepal, given the nature of the relationship between the two governments.”

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