(TibetanReview.net, May03’23) – Nepal’s Department of National Identity Card and Civil Registration is for the first time considering registering the births, deaths and other vital events of the refugees living inside the country, reported the kathmandupost.com May 3. However, “This should not be seen as resumption of identity card distribution to Tibetan refugees,” the report quoted a home ministry official as saying.
Nepal stopped issuing identity cards to Tibetan refugees in 1995. Some in the government, under pressure from Western countries, have tried to restart the process. But Chinese pressure prevented the resumption of the process, the report said.
The refugee identity cards are renewed every year but very few have done so this year, the report cited ministry sources as saying.
The report cited the UN refugee agency UNHCR as saying Nepal hosts around 20,000 refugees, including those from Tibet, Bhutan and other states.
The report noted that while it was often said that there were around 20,000 Tibetan refugees in the country, the data of the home ministry and the Tibetan community show that the current population of the Tibetan refugees stood at around 12,000.
The home ministry data was stated to show that there were 9,101 Tibetan refugees living in various places in Kathmandu Valley. This number was stated to include Tibetan refugees living in Bauddha, Swayambhu, Pharping, Jawalakhel and Jorpati.
The report also cited a ministry official as saying very few registered Tibetans had come to renew their refugee identification.
Nepal’s latest refugee documentation was stated to show that 4,546 Tibetan refugees were living in the Bauddha area, with others living in Kaski, Solukhumbu and Baglung, and other districts of Nepal.
The report cited the home ministry official as saying the need for the civil registration of refugees had become acute after the recent busting of a ring that illegally provided Nepali citizenship certificates to Tibetan refugees. “If we could give them some kind of identity, they would not indulge in such a crime.”
And so, it is not clear whether unregistered Tibetans will be considered under the legal plan Nepal is reported to be considering for the civil registration of refugees. On the one hand, the home ministry has said unregistered Tibetans should not be seen as being envisaged to be included for the issuance of identity cards under it. And yet, lack of such avenue is seen as creating an acute problem, leading people to adopt illegal means to obtain citizenship.
The need for vital registrations of refugees became acute after the busting in the first week of April of a ring that illegally provided Nepali citizenship certificates to some Tibetan refugees, the home ministry official has said. “If we could give them some kind of identity, they would not indulge in such a crime.”
“We are also discussing the advantages and complexities that can arise after we open vital registrations for refugees,” the report quoted Navaraj Jaisi, director at the civil registration department, as saying. “Refugees living inside the country are facing problems and we are looking for a way to address them.”
Jaisi has said that an identification would help refugees get school admission, do business, and open bank accounts, besides accessing other services.
“Earlier, refugee cards were proposed for all undocumented Tibetans living in various refugee settlements, as well as PAN (permanent account number) cards so that they could work,” Gopal Siwakoti, chairman of INHURED International, a human rights NGO, has said. “If the refugees are registered, their number and identity will be under the state’s purview. As per the constitution, the government should register everyone born inside Nepal’s borders.”
Registration and identity cards are their rights, he has added.
One major problem is, Nepal still does not have a law for the vital registrations of refugees, Jaisi has pointed out, adding, “we only maintain their records.” Refugees face many difficulties in the absence of vital registration, he has added.
As the legal framework and parameters for the civil registration of all refugees are being discussed, with both the home ministry and the department being positive about it, human rights defenders have welcomed the proposal. For this purpose, the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs was stated to have also consulted legal experts and human rights defenders on how to initiate vital registrations of refugees, its advantages and disadvantages and other legal procedures.
Tibetans constitute the largest number of refuges in Nepal, followed by those from Bhutan. After the UNHCR helped to resettle more than 113,500 Bhutanese refugees in eight different countries in one of its largest resettlement programmes globally between 2007 and 2016, only 6,300 of them remain, living in Jhapa and Morang districts. And both the districts began their vital registrations in 2017, the report said.
So, if any group of refugees remain to be registered in any significant number, it is the Tibetans.