Nepal Tibet: The Risky Himalayan Crossings For Refugees – OpEd


Friendship Bridge between Nepal and China in Kodari Highway (Khasa) and Syaprubesi- Gyorong Highway are the major two point of crossing for heavy vehicles and people between two countries.

The border trading town of Khasa has remained closed following the earthquake. China is preparing to relocate the current residents of the earthquake-ravaged border town of Khasa to Xigatse, 200km to the northwest. The earthquake that hit central and eastern Nepal on 25 April 2015 affected Khasa as well and the residents were moved right after the quake.

Locals claim the resettlement plan is to discourage the illegal trade China believes has grown in the area because of the close ties between Nepalis and residents of the area. Some other say that even though China has security concerns it is also wary of the Tibetan refugees crossing Nepal through highways and passes between two countries..

There are many passes between Tibet and Nepal to cross the Himalayas. The passes are a kind of walking trails. Only a person and an animal like yak or horse can travel at a time due to its narrowness. Only some parts of the trail are in better condition for walking while most parts appear to be difficult to travel for human beings. These traditional, historical and natural trails are considered to be lifelines for the border people of both sides for many centuries.

Border inhabitants of Nepal and Tibet also journey through passes (trials) of Mustang and Humla in the western part of Nepal. Some cross through Purang (Nepalese: Taklakot) along the Humla Karnali River, close to Mount Kailash (Tibetan: Khang Rinpoche) one of the most sacred mountains in Tibet, worshipped not only by Buddhists, but also by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains. These trials are non-motorable.

After Cultural Revolution in China and the occupation of Tibet, thousands of Tibetans have fled to Nepal by crossing the Himalayas and have settled in different refugee camps, cities, villages in Nepal. Many have gone to India, especially in Dharamsala, where the Dalai Lama lives with his followers. Even though some Tibetan refugees arrived in Nepal in the early 1950s; the first major influx crossed the border in 1959, following the Lhasa Uprising.

Such Tibetans consider violating the Nepalese Tibet boundaries after crossing to Nepal feel as a great conquest of their life. They have a very strong mindset. Only physically and mentally strong people can accomplish the goal of boundary crossing. Walking months secretly over trails is not an anecdote. The questions of verve and trouncing the odds are attached with such travels. There are equal chances of victory and disappointment. Many days, they pass through lonely mountains, even off the trail because of the fear of being detained, many times without food and water. If anyone falls ill en-route, they have to carry on their journey in such condition, too. Sometimes they sleep under the open sky of snow and wind. An ordinary over or under aged person can hardly trek on those trails. Those who are caught attempting to cross the border often face torture and varying periods of imprisonment.

On the faces of those who have escaped and crossed the border, the pain of losing an identity can be clearly observed. They have become a people without a nation and their feeling appears to be very sentimental, with an uncertain future.

Many ethnic groups of northern Nepal, such as the Sherpas, Tamangs, Melangis and Yolmu share strong religious and cultural bonds, as well as common Tibeto-Burmese racial origins, with Tibetans. It is said that Nepal has its own ‘Tibetan’ population. To this day, many of these ethnic groups, which populate the Himalayan regions of Nepal, rely on cross border trade with Tibetans and Chinese settlers living in Tibet for their economic livelihood.

It is Nepal’s policy that Tibetans who arrived prior to 1989, and their offspring, are eligible to receive government-issued refugees (identity) certificate (RC), which allows them to remain in Nepal with certain civil rights. Tibetan refugees who have arrived or will arrive in Nepal after 1989 have been allowed to stay only in transit, and are intended to benefit from an informal agreement between the government of Nepal and the UNHCR, often referred to as the Gentlemen’s Agreement, which assumes cooperation among Nepalese police and government officials with the UNHCR providing for the safe transit of Tibetan refugees through Nepal onward to India.

However, in February 2005, Nepalese authorities demanded the closure of both the Office of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Welfare Office on the grounds that they had not been registered properly. Since then, the task of dealing with Tibetan refugees has fallen on the shoulders of the UNHCR.
Tibetan refugees have settled in India by the tens of thousands since 1959, when the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and many of his followers fled to the northern Indian town of Dharamsala.

Over the past eight years, around three-quarters of the refugees who arrived in Nepal were from the Kham or Amdo regions of eastern Tibet (now primarily incorporated into the Chinese provinces of Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan).

Bouddhanath stupa in Kathmandu city is considered to be mini-Tibet where hundreds of Tibetans are seen worshipping Buddhist monastery. Many renounced international personalities have visited this monastery. The site is comparable to Mecca for the Tibetan Buddhists and every year tens of thousands of pilgrims from all over the Himalayan region visit the monastery.

Tibetan refugees are frequently described as “illegal immigrants” and Nepalese leaders frequently assert the need to prevent “anti-China” activity on Nepal’s soil. The Nepalese government’s laissez-faire approach toward Tibetan refugees began to change and tighten in 1986.

In 1989, pressure from the Chinese government and the growing number of new arrivals led Nepal to initiate a strict border-control policy. The Nepalese government made clear that it would henceforth refuse to accept or recognize new Tibetan refugees. However, the influx of refugees from Tibet to Nepal continues but the number of refugees is shapely decline due to strong border security arrangements made by Nepal and China and economic uplift of Tibet initiated by China.

*The author is former expert United Nations Africa is writer of a book Melting Everest and Falling Mountains.

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