Join our Mailing List

"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Tibetan refugees in Nepal are scared

March 29, 2009

Irish Times
March 27, 2009

As China’s influence grows in Nepal, Tibetan
refugees are feeling the pressure, SIOFRA O’DONOVAN reports from Kathmandu

LIKE MOST other young Tibetans here, Dawa, a
teacher in his 30s, does not have legal residence
in Nepal. He arrived from Lhasa in 1991. While
Tibetans who arrived in Nepal prior to 1989 are
eligible for a refugee registration certificate
(RC) allowing them to remain in the country, thousands live here illegally.

"I don’t like living here any more," he admits.
"I have to get home by 8pm, to avoid police questioning me."

Dawa has travelled back to Lhasa, Tibet’s
capital, regularly since he left, to see his
parents. Eventually, he would like to return to
Tibet. "I do have hope that Tibet will be free,
but I’m not sure how much good demonstrations do for us, in Nepal."

Tseten Norbu, a businessman and protest leader in
Kathmandu’s Tibetan community is from Shigatse,
western Tibet, and lives in exile in Nepal. He
continues to organise campaigns to free his
country from Chinese rule, despite the risk of arrest by Nepali authorities.

Eleven Tibetans were arrested in his
neighbourhood before March 10th on charges of
anti-China activities and have been sentenced to
three months’ imprisonment. “We don’t protest
against the Chinese people, only the Chinese
Communist Party which is opposed to Tibetan religion and culture."

There is increasing despair among the community
here, particularly among the most vulnerable,
those without papers. The Nepali government now
requires that all Tibetan shops, restaurants and
businesses be officially registered. To do that,
you need 50,000 Nepali rupees (r500) and proper residence status in Nepal.

"I know a woman with a clothes shop who went
there with her RC card and all the money. They
refused to accept her documents," says Karma
Dondrup, a refugee living in Kathmandu.

To get round the problem, often Nepali citizens
register businesses in their name, to help Tibetans who cannot do so.

The Himalyan Sherpa, Tamang, Dolpo, Mustang and
many other ethnically Tibetan Nepali tribes sympathise with Tibetans.

They share the same devotion to the Dalai Lama, and practice Tibetan Buddhism.

Other young Tibetans are working as political
activists, independently or with NGOs. Yeshe
Zangpo, from Amdo, Qinghai province, came into
exile in 1994 to study Tibetan in India, crossing
into Nepal over the pass at Solokumbu in the
Mount Everest region. “We hid in gorges by day
and travelled by night.” It took 26 days to get from Lhasa to Kathmandu.

He has been editor of a political newspaper in
Kathmandu since 2008. "I spoke to my brother last
week at home, and he told me to stop doing this.
He said I should think of their safety.” The
Chinese government punishes the relatives of
those they see as separatists and members of the
“Dalai Clique”. “I am always afraid in
Kathmandu,” he tells me, “there are so many Chinese spies here.”

Apart from restaurant, antique and clothes
businesses, teaching work and a minority who
undertake the more risky work of political
activism, the staple work of many Tibetans in
Nepal since 1970 has been in the carpet industry as weavers and dyers.

Many of these factories have now fallen victim to
the global recession and problems within the
Nepal Labour Union and have closed, leaving thousands of Tibetans without work.

Some enterprising young Tibetans, Damdhul and
Tenzii Wangdu, have now founded Café Dream
Factory, a community project that works to
redress the sense of purposelessness that is endemic among the refugee youth.

The group supports young artists and musicians
and their office creates employment networks for
young Tibetans . While there are some 29
monasteries in the Kathmandu district of Bouda, a
Tibetan enclave, only 8 to 10 per cent of the
refugees in Nepal are monks or nuns.

Many of the monasteries in the enclave are owned
and largely populated by ethnically Tibetan
Nepali citizens but the high lamas are usually Tibetan.

Jamyang Geshe la came into exile from Kham in
1985 to study in a monastery in southern India,
as most Tibetan refugee monks do. "We could not
study Buddhism properly in our monastery in
Tibet, there was too much political instruction.
Eventually, there will be no monks left in
Tibet.” He runs a Buddhist centre in Bouda.

"If we can’t learn Tibetan, we can’t read the
scriptures and our religious purpose is stunted,"
says Dawa Tsering, a monk who gives regular
religious and political speeches in the Kathmandu area.

Asked how he felt about living in Nepal these
days, he said: "We have no refugee rights here.
We can’t do anything here anymore, without being scared."

CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
Developed by plank