U.S. Under Secretary of State Maria Otero, who also serves as the US Special Coordinator for Tibetan issues, took up the Tibetan refugee issue with Nepal’s Prime Minister Jhalanath Khanal on Monday.
Under Secretary Otero urged Prime Minister Khanal to adhere to the international practice of providing a safe transit to the Tibetan refugees fleeing Tibet to India.She highlighted the problems faced by the Tibetans here, according to Milan Tuladhar, Prime minister's foreign relations advisor.
According to Tuladhar, Prime Minister Khanal said that they have been dealing with the issue of Tibetan refugees as per the international human rights obligations. "We will deal with the issue taking into account the concerns of our immediate neighbors -- China and India," he quoted the prime minister as saying.
Earlier on Sunday, the U.S. Under Secretary visited Tibetan Refugee Reception Center in Kathmandu with the American Ambassador to Nepal, Scott DeLisi to talk with the newly-arrived Tibetan refugees. She also met with Tibetan refugee leaders to learn about the problems and hardships they face in Nepal.
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.
They have previously been given safe passage through Nepal under an informal agreement between the government and the UN refugee agency put in place in 1989, when Nepal stopped giving them refugee status. They are then given UN assistance to travel on to India, where the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama lives in exile.
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.
Tibet support groups have criticized Nepal's violation of actions that run counter to established procedure under the "Gentlemen's Agreement" which assumes cooperation among Nepalese police and government officials with the UNHCR in providing for the safe transit of Tibetan refugees through Nepal and onward to India.
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.