Why Is Nepal Cracking down on Tibetan Refugees?

Economic pressures are causing the Chinese neighbor to reverse longstanding policies.

  1. Friction between Chinese authorities and the five million Tibetans who live within the borders of China is on the rise, and nowhere is the strife more apparent than in the neighboring nation of Nepal. Last month in Kathmandu I spoke with five young Tibetans who had just journeyed across the Himalaya to escape draconian policies imposed by the Beijing government in their homeland. More than six hundred Tibetans have fled to Nepal this year, even though it’s a dangerous undertaking. Asylum seekers have lost limbs to frostbite, perished in blizzards, and been arrested by Chinese border patrols. Some have been shot. The youngest of the refugees I met was a fourteen-year-old girl. She was aware of the hazards but lit out for the border anyway, hoping if she made it into Nepal she’d find safe passage to India, where in 1959 the Dalai Lama established the Tibetan government-in-exile, and more than 100,000 Tibetan refugees presently reside.

    According to an informal arrangement hammered out twenty-two years ago between the government of Nepal and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Kathmandu pledged to allow Tibetans to travel through Nepal en route to India, and to facilitate their transit. Lately, however, this established protocol has been ignored with increasing frequency. Nepalese police have been apprehending Tibetans far inside Nepal, robbing them, and then returning them to Tibet at gunpoint, where they are typically imprisoned and not uncommonly tortur...