February 11, 2005
Since 1959, the Nepal representative office of Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, has helped Tibetans who fled Chinese rule adjust to a life in exile. With nearly 2,000 Tibetan refugees arriving here every year, activists say the office and the welfare center in Kathmandu remain vital in supporting Tibetans' human rights.
Last month, the Nepal government ordered them closed saying they had not been properly registered. It did not elaborate.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has confirmed that it works with the Tibetan welfare office locally in Nepal.
So the closures have shocked and confused many in the exile community. Tsering Dhondup, an administrator of the refugee camp where most Tibetans in Kathmandu live, says he is hopeful the offices will be reopened.
"The government says it's shut down, they send a letter. But they don't send people, police office to shut down it," he said. "They never shut it. They just said it's illegal; it's not registered. So the office is still there. So we would like to restore the office."
Activists believe China likely succeeded in pressuring Nepal to close the offices, after officials in Beijing praised Nepal for its actions.
China invaded Tibet in 1950, and later annexed the region entirely. In 1959, Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, fled Tibet for India where he set up a government in exile in the city of Dharamsala. Since then, hundreds of thousands of Tibetans have followed.
Many refugees use Nepal as a transit point on their way to India. But some 20-thousand have chosen to remain in Nepal. The office of the Dalai Lama and the welfare center offered assistance - including working with Nepalese authorities to provide an identity card needed for residence. Without that card, Mr. Dhondup says, he does not know how Tibetans are supposed to get by living in Nepal.
"We cannot buy a vehicle. We cannot run the business. … So we say we need restoration. We'd be happy to restore our office - please accept this," he said.
Activists are calling on the international community to pressure Nepal to reopen the Dalai Lama's office and the welfare center. But that may be complicated. Last week, Nepal's King Gyanendra dismissed the government, in part because of threats posed by an insurgency in the countryside. With that much political turmoil, it may be some time before the Tibetan refugee community gets the attention it says it needs.
Source: VOA News