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Nepal Hands Over 23 Detained Tibetan Refugees to UNHCR

Tibetans, who were arrested in Bajura district in far-western Nepal for crossing the Nepal-Tibet border to arrive in Kathmandu, await their interrogation at Nepal's Immigration office in Kathmandu September 14, 2011. Twenty Tibetans have been arrested whi

Twenty three Tibetan refugees detained from the period of September 11-13 in Nepal for "illegally crossing" into the country have been released Thursday and turned over to the care of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Nepal police arrested 20 Tibetans near a remote western Himalayan village on September 11 for crossing into Nepal from China without having valid travel permits. On September 13, police arrested 3 Tibetans in Barabise of Sindupalchowk district, north-central Nepal.

The group was reported to be made up of 18 males and 5 females, mostly aged between 13 to 28.

Washington based International Campaign for Tibet president, Mary Beth Markey, has said "The Chinese embassy’s menacing interference into the case of these 23 Tibetans represents an escalation in China’s attempts to undermine existing protocols for the protection of Tibetan refugees in Nepal." This has been in violation of a ‘Gentlemen’s Agreement’ between the Nepal government and the UNHCR, wherein Tibetans who enter Nepalese territory from Tibet are supposed to be turned over to the care of the UNHCR and quickly thereafter allowed to travel onward to India.

Nepal and Tibet have a common border of 1,414 km with 34 major passes between the two. Each year, thousands of Tibetans refugees try to cross over, both via road and the snow-clad passes, facing grave threats to their lives.

Approximately 2,500 Tibetan refugees escape into exile annually, travelling through Nepal en route to Dharamsala in northern India where their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile are based.

However the number of the Tibetan refugees escaping from Nepal has decreased in the recent years following China’s growing influence in Nepal. Since 2008, Nepal has hardened its stance on the Tibetan refugees, a trend observed in the Himalayan country’s increasing ties with China.

Nepal's major parties adhere to the 'One China' policy, regarding Tibet as an integral part of China and keeping Tibetan refugees in Nepal on a tight leash.