As Nepal looks to register left out refugees from Bhutan, Tibetans to continue to remain left out

Young Tibetan monks carry a portrait of the Dalai Lama through the streets of Nepal. (Photo courtesy: DailyMail)

(, Dec06’21) – The government of Nepal is set to issue identification cards to refugees living in the country, reported Dec 4, citing officials. However, the only beneficiaries will be the kin of refugees from Bhutan and some 429 late comers from that country who do not yet have that card. Unregistered Tibetans, estimated to number over 4,000, are not being considered for registration, the report said.

Registration will enable the refugees to pursue higher education, open bank accounts, conduct business and do other necessary work during their stay in the country, the report said.

Under pressure from China, the government of Nepal stopped providing refugee cards to Tibetan refugees in 1994. Since 1995, there has been no documentation of Tibetan refugees despite repeated calls from the rights bodies, the report said.

“Since we know the geopolitical sensitivity of this issue, we have not decided to issue refugee cards to the children of Tibetan refugees and those who were left out of registration since 1995,” the report quoted a Home Ministry official as saying, requesting anonymity due to the seriousness of the matter.

Nepal also refused to issue exit permits to Tibetan refugees when in 2006 the United States offered to resettle 5,000 of them, including members of the erstwhile CIA-supported, Mustang-based Tibetan resistance movement.

After a total of 113,500 were resettled in the United States, Canada and other countries, around 6,365 Bhutanese refugees are still living in Nepal in two camps at Beldangi and Sanischare of Jhapa district, the report said, citing the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. 

The report put the population of Tibetan refugees in Nepal at 12,540. The government of Nepal was stated to estimate that over 4,000 kin and children of Tibetan refugees were still looking for refugee cards so that they could pursue higher education, open bank accounts, find employment, do businesses and access basic services.

The Bhutanese refugees are Nepali-speaking people expelled from southern Bhutan in the 1990’s for allegedly being in the country illegally after they launched a campaign for human rights and democracy. Nepal’s Ministry of Home Affairs has sent a proposal to the Cabinet recommending providing of identification only to Bhutanese refugees, the report said.

The report cited Nepal’s Home Secretary Tek Narayan Pandey as saying no decision has been taken on issuing refugee cards to Tibetans living in Nepal. “The proposed guideline only works for Bhutanese refugees. Several hundreds of their children are facing various problems while living in Nepal,” he has said.

The report cited officials from several government agencies as saying that though not a party to the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, Nepal was hosting the Bhutanese and Tibetans as well as some urban refugees whose number stands at some hundreds, on humanitarian grounds.

“Yes, there are concerns and pressure from the United States and some Western countries on Nepal to issue refugee identification cards to the Tibetan refugees living in Nepal,” one official was quoted as saying.

A series of discussions were held over the last two-three months at the chamber of Chief Secretary Shanker Das Bairagai to figure out ways to resolve the complexities regarding the provision of identification for Bhutanese refugees without courting any controversy. During those meetings, some secretaries and heads of security agencies had urged the chief secretary to provide travel documents to the Tibetan refugees whose relatives are living abroad to facilitate family reunion, the report cited an official who participated in the discussions as saying.

“But due to the government’s indecision, we have not been able to issue travel documents to them,” the official has said “If this new proposal on distributing identity cards to Bhutanese refugees gets endorsed, a process to distribute travel documents and cards to Tibetan refugees could also start.”

However, “since the issue is serious and holds geopolitical sensitivities, successive governments have been hesitant to take a decision,” Indra Aryal, former president of Human Rights Organization of Nepal, has said.


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