On June 27 and July 4, demonstrations and protests were held by the urban refugee communities in front of the UN and UNHCR offices. They raised placards with slogans –“UNHCR Don’t cheat Geneva UN and Urban Refugees“, “Nepal is not the Solution for Urban Refugees“, “Resettle us somewhere to live like human beings” and “We want resettlement” – which reveals the predicaments of refugees in Nepal – and is reflective of exacerbation of refugee crisis over the years.It was specifically emphasised that “no cards, no identity”, in reference to refugee cards, has becomea major issue in exercising basic rights such as employment, health services, banking facilities, movement etc. After 2016, UNHCR cut off monthly monetary support and resettlement program ended leaving the asylum seeker helpless. An eleven-point demand was set forth by the urban refugee communities to be presented in the UNHCR and UN offices to make their lives easier in Nepal. The demonstrations are the sheer representation of refugees in crisis, due to the ignorance nonchalant attitude of Government of Nepal towards the refugee community in regards to their recognition and protection of their basic rights. and therefore, they are nowseeking help through UN agencies.
Nepal’s statistics for refugees is around 20,000, coming from Tibet, Bhutan, Myanmar, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, Lebanon and other countries. These all are/were conflict-driven countries where people fled to seek refuge in various countries and some landed in Nepal as well. Whereas, ‘urban refugee’, a classification provided by the UN, stands at around 700 at present. Since the Tibetan uprising in 1959, Nepal has had an influx of refugees in the country. Since then, Bhutanese, Rohingya, Afghan, Lebanese, Syrian, and Bengali refugees have sought asylum in the country. Nepal is quite liberal with refugees from other countries, but the case is different when it comes to Tibetan refugees – and this has to do with the pressure from Beijing regarding the same. Nepal adheres to the ‘One China Policy’ hence assuring Beijing that no anti-China activity are carried outin the country. Tibetan refugees stopped receiving refugee cards in 1995. Tibetan refugees are restricted to hold demonstrations and protests, and if done so will face consequences such as being held as detainees and risk of deportation to China. Nevertheless, the challenges most refugees face (food insecurity, health care, socio-economic problem, lack of education, shelter problem) raises a series of questions toward the government.
In December 2021, National Assembly held a meeting, announcing that Government is set to approve Bhutanese refugees with refugee cards which would enable them to get PAN card, to establish small businesses in the country and pursue higher education. There was no mention of Tibetan refugees for the same. Even so, the official approval of the agenda has not been concluded to date. According to some officials who talked to The Kathmandu post mentioned, “if refugee cards are provided to Bhutanese refugees who are not registered yet and children of those who have been here since 1990, there will be pressure on the government to issue similar cards to the Tibetan refugees and their children.” The realisation of the geopolitical sensitivity the issue carries has held back government to take any further action on the matter and depicts discriminatory policies. In the case of Urban refugees, Government of Nepal has never provided any public declaration on providing facilities or resettlement plans, yet, the cabinet provides decisions as partial measures upon request of the UNHCR – waiving penalty fees for overstaying their visa-period.
Nepal has not ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention and 1967 protocol, hence, categorises refugees as ‘illegal immigrants.’ However, this does not give the country permission to devalue lives of the refugees as Nepal has ratified UDHR, ICCPR, ICSECR, CAT and many other conventions to protect human lives and their dignity. The dire situation of Bhutanese, Rohingya, Tibetan refugee, and other refugees in Nepal has portrayed differently. Many politicians exert that the assistance it has provided to refugees is on humanitarian grounds and under pressure from western countries. Nevertheless, claims of Nepal defying customary international laws and the inability to follow through recommendations provided by the UNHCR are highlighted in the UN Periodical review. Nepal has showed instances of refoulement of Tibetans on exile, but many cases are not reported. This is a setback for Nepal on the grounds of promotion and protection of human rights principles, and increases vulnerability for the Tibetan refugees to be deported back to China when agreements such as Boundary management system and Treaty on Mutual Legal Assistance on Criminal Matters are present with China. Nonetheless, Nepal even in future is not willing to ratify any of the refugee and stateless related conventions due to its geo-location.
The political will to resolve the refugee problem in Nepal should be stronger. Refugees’ statelessness can have security challenges for small economy like Nepal, where no records mean no control (crimes, violation of human rights, lack of identity, hindrance in free movement, border security). It is eminent for the country to have clear legislative framework on immigration, refugee and asylum laws, policies and plans to mitigate challenges that has been brought forth by the refugee contention. Refugee from different countries face different challenges, nonetheless, fundamental framework to address granting refugee status, refugee management, resettlement plans, repatriation strategies without breaching non-refoulement principles must be in place. Whereas, if Nepal is not willing to be the host country for refugees, it should have concrete measures to facilitate them, in collaboration with the related institutions and countries, on their resettlement to safe-haven. The increasing ties between China-Nepal can be a predicament to ratifying international conventions, but Nepal needs to have plans and policies to address national security and problems of refugee before any contingencies occur from refugee influx than having to deal to with when the problems arise.