(TibetanReview.net, May17, 2014) – Some 118 people, including 110 Tibetans and 8 Tibet supporters, staged a protest on May 13 in front of the Council for Foreigners Disputes in Belgium’s capital Brussels. The protest targeted Belgium’s change in asylum law in 2013 and its unfair and improper implementation on Tibetan asylum seekers from India. The protest was organized by the Tibetaanse-Vlaamse Vriendenkring (Tibetan-Flemish Circle of Friends) under the initiative of the special Working Group “Help for Tibetans in Flanders”.
The organizers said in a statement May 13 that the protesters carried placards bearing slogans such as: “India never signed the refugee convention”, “Tibet -> India -> Belgium -> no man’s land?” “We have never been recognized as refugees”, “In Tibet oppression, in India uncertainty, in Belgium uncertainty, where is our future?”, “We are not Chinese, no Indians, we are Tibetans… who welcomes us?”, “We had temporary shelter, no asylum in India!”, “We have no voice” and so on.
The change introduced by Belgium in its Foreigners Act on May 8, 2013, which came into force on Sep 1 that year, stated: “there is no need for international protection if the asylum seeker already is protected in a first country of asylum, unless he can prove that he can no longer count on the concrete protection in the first country of asylum, or that he is no longer admitted to the territory of that country.”
The amended Act also provided: “a country can be seen as a first country of asylum in case the asylum seeker is recognized as refugee and that he therefore is still protected, or that he is really protected in that country, including the principle of non-refoulement.”
Since those amendments came into force, Belgium’s Commisariat for Refugees kept rejecting all asylum applications of Tibetans from India, calling India their “first country of asylum” while refusing to find out the legal status of Tibetans living in that country.
The organizers pointed out in their statement that India had never signed the United Nations international agreements on asylum, that no asylum procedure exists in India and that Tibetans therefore cannot get asylum in India but only a temporary residence permit.
The statement put the number of Tibetan applications rejected by the asylum authorities at a few hundreds. It said that appeals filed by Tibetans born in India had been rejected by the judges of the Council for Foreigners Disputes in Brussels which agreed with the Commissariat for Refugees that they should return to India. In taking this decision, the Council did not investigate the status of Tibetans living in India. An appeal filed by Tibetans born in Tibet (but who had arrived from India), was still pending, the statement said, adding, the prospects did not look good.
Two high courts in India have recently ruled that Tibetans born in the county from Jan 26, 1950 to Jun 30, 1987 are citizens by birth. However, the government of India has so far refused to implement these rulings except in the case of the two petitioners in those cases, citing adverse security implications and fears of hostile reaction from China, according to newspaper reports.
The protesters wanted the Council to investigate the situation of the Tibetans from India thoroughly and seek a solution for their hopeless situation, rather than assuming that they already have “a status” in that country.
The statement said that more and more Tibetans were now being left without support or care, and being forced into illegality. The groups have threatened to stage more peaceful protests in future unless the situation of the undocumented Tibetans is addressed properly.