Nepal’s Tibetan refugee resettlement plan still in doldrumsSeptember 8th, 2011 - 3:47 pm ICT by IANS
Kathmandu, Sep 8 (IANS) Nearly six years after the then US president George W. Bush proposed to resettle in America around 5,000 Tibetan refugees, regarded as living in danger in Nepal, there is still uncertainty and a shroud of secrecy surrounding the project.
In the past, the US successfully lobbied with the Nepal government to allow the over 100,000 Bhutanese refugees living in Nepal to be offered new homes in the US and other western countries. Subsequently, more than 50,000 refugees have already exited Nepal.
However, the Tibetan resettlement programme, though it involves a handful of refugees by comparison, continues to hang fire due to Nepal’s reluctance to ruffle the feathers of its giant northern neighbour China.
Soon after the Bush proposal was announced in September 2005, China objected to it, saying it would be tantamount to interfering in its internal affairs and violating Nepal’s One China policy, which regards Tibet to be an integral part of the Chinese republic.
Beijing considers there are no Tibetan refugees, only illegal migrants, who should be punished as per the law of the land.
However, two years later, there were indications that the dragon was mellowing.
In May 2007, the then Chinese ambassador to Nepal, Zheng Xianglin, held a meeting with the then American ambassador to Nepal, James F. Moriarty to discuss the Tibetan and other issues.
In a “frank conversation”, Zheng implied that “limited resettlement” in the US might be possible. However, he cautioned Moriarty that “large and public resettlement plans were not a viable option”.
Emphasizing the importance of a “stable Tibet”, the Chinese envoy indicated that a “large” US resettlement policy could have the potential fallout of encouraging outward migration from Tibet.
Answering diplomatically, the American ambassador said his government viewed Tibet as a part of China and only sought to assist the Tibetans who were stranded in Nepal, not create “a new wave of migration”.
The apparent Chinese thaw caught the Americans by surprise.
When Moriarty briefed his superiors in Washington, he said the Chinese envoy’s comments about Tibetan refugees were “most surprising”.
“While we would not advise reading too much into his remarks, we will continue to explore with the government of Nepal the option of quietly resettling a few Tibetans,” Moriarty said in the confidential document that is part of the recent cache published by WikiLeaks.
The US offer to resettle only 5,000 Tibetan refugees, while the diaspora has more than 20,000 members in Nepal, has been greeted with doubts by the Tibetans, who wonder why the US was ready to absorb 60,000 Bhutanese refugees but only a fraction of Tibetans.
They also feel that resettlement in the US for them would be tougher than resettling the Bhutanese refugees as tiny Bhutan could not bring the same political pressure on Nepal to scuttle the move as China could.
(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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