Tibetan Refugees in Nepal
Traveling is an educational experience majority of the time, I’ve often gained knowledge that cannot be found in books only discovered by experience. One of more shocking learning experience this year was about Tibet, what exactly is going on in Tibet?
To learn more about the Tibetan culture, the Tibet the region and the Dalai Lama I ventured to two Tibetan Refugee Settlements outside of Pokhara, Nepal - Tashi Palkhel and Tashiling. After the 1959 Chinese invasion of Tibet and Dalai Lama exile, 128,000 Tibetans left their homeland and of that approximately 20,000 called Nepal their new home.
Why does China want Tibet? China’s interests are twofold – Geographical isolation and future water supply. Tibet has the highest Himalaya mountain passes running from the Hindu Kush on the border with Pakistan to the Myanmar border, small groups can navigate this terrain but no major army will make it across this land from any direction and supplies are impossible to bring across. From a military point of view Tibet is a solid wall. There’s a fear that south of Tibet is one of the world’s largest population concentration in the world, if Beijing doesn’t have a hold on Tibet, this population could migrate into Tibet and turn into an extension of India. The Chinese won’t risk its borders as Indian or Islamic powers evolve. Besides border security, Beijing is concerned about future supply of H2O, Tibet is rich with fresh water contained in its oxygen deprived glaciers and a vast number of underground reservoirs. Tibet has the largest repository of freshwater after the Arctic and Antarctic poles and often called the ‘third pole”. Many of the world’s greatest rivers flow out of the Tibetan Plateau – Yellow, Yangtze Kiang, Mekong, Salween, Sutlej and the Brahmaputra. Also almost half the global population currently lives in the watershed of the Tibetan Plateau. China has severe water shortage challenges since most of its rivers are either too polluted or too silted to use for its 1.3 billion people. Beijing is on a building spree of dams, canals and other water diversion projects to ensure China’s industrial and populated corners have water.
Tibetans in Nepal. Tibetans have been in Nepal since the late 1950’s, many of them live in refugee settlements similar to the ones I visited in Pokhara. Tibetans in Nepal are known for selling stunning crafts and beautiful jewelry. One of the reasons they sell crafts and jewelry is because it is difficult to gain Nepalese citizenship therefore they are not allowed to work for Nepalese corporations. Owning a small business, selling items on the street or selling Tibetan products to tourists inside their welcoming refugee camps are their only options for making a living in Nepal. Many Tibetans who were born and raised in Nepal do not have citizenship because Tibetan parents are not allowed to register their child’s birth. The Nepalese consider Tibetans second-class citizens and are trapped in a society that does not give them any official identification. Due to lack of identification Tibetans have no legal status and are not allowed to own property, businesses, vehicles or be lawfully employed BUT they do have to pay income taxes.
The future looks bleak for Tibetan refugees in Nepal. Human Rights Watch (www.hrw.org) research shows the Nepalese government has placed strict restrictions on activities promoting Tibetan culture and religion. Nepali security forces have used excessive force, subjective detention, illegal surveillance, unnecessary threats and intimidation against the Tibetan population. In exchange for financial benefits Nepal has signed into several security and intelligence-sharing agreements with China. Nepal closely monitors the Tibetan community, it’s leaders and real or perceived activists. During Tibetan holidays, Nepal increases the number of intimidating armed police in Tibetan neighborhoods.
India on the other hand embraced the Dalai Lama and welcomed Tibetan refugees with open arms, this isn’t because Indians are caring and compassionate – China and India are after the same resources! Something to think about……
Most of my information came from http://tibetan-encounter.com/, I wasn’t able to do a tour with them but I stayed with Thupten the founder of Tibetan Encounter for a week in Pokhara.