KATHMANDU: The reason the number of Tibetan refugees fleeing to India dropped dramatically since 2008 is because China is paying money to Nepal police to arrest them from the border areas, says a US embassy cable released by whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.
The cable, sent by an unnamed political officer at the American embassy in New Delhi February 22 this year, is based on conversations with two people whose names were also not revealed.
Titled “Update on Tibetan refugee flow”, the confidential memo says that each year, an average of 2,500 to 3,500 refugees from Tibet arrive in Dharamsala in northern India, where exiled Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama has his government-in-exile.
Almost half of them return to Tibet after receiving an audience with the Dalai Lama.
The sources said that from 1980 to November 2009, 87,096 refugees were processed by the Dharamsala reception centre for Tibetan refugees and 46,620 returned to Tibet after a short pilgrimage in India.
Most of those who stay on in India are children who take admission in schools run by Tibetan Children’s Villages since the Chinese government doesn’t allow them to receive education the Tibetan way in China-controlled Tibet.
Both the sources highlighted to the political officer at the US embassy that, following the March 2008 uprising in Tibet, the number of refugees had “markedly decreased”, with only about 650 refugees arriving at the reception centre from April 2008 to March 2009.
One of the sources then speculated that “Beijing has asked Kathmandu to step up patrols of Nepali border forces and make it more difficult for Tibetans to enter Nepal”.
The belief was reiterated to the official during a meeting in New Delhi where the source said, according to the leaked cable: “The Chinese government rewards (Nepali forces) by providing financial incentives to officers who hand over Tibetans attempting to exit China.”
However, the source was optimistic that the number of refugees would return to normal because admission statistics for 2010 were surpassing those from an equivalent period in 2009.
Nepal and Tibet have a common border of 1,414 km with 34 major passes between the two. Each year, dozens of refugees try to cross over, both via road and the snow-clad passes, facing grave threats to their lives.
In Nepal, China has stepped up “cooperation” on border security, training Nepal’s border forces to prevent “criminal” and “anti-China” activities.
Beijing says there are no Tibetan refugees, only illegal migrants, who should be dealt with severely.
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.
This year, China prevented Nepal’s president and foreign and cultural ministers from attending a programme at a Tibetan monastery in Kathmandu while the Chinese embassy in Kathmandu raised strong objections to Nepal’s lawmakers visiting Dharamshala and meeting the Dalai Lama.
The Dalai Lama, barring one brief visit to Lumbini in southern Nepal to visit the birthplace of the Buddha during the reign of King Birendra, has not been allowed to visit Nepal and is excluded from all international Buddhist conferences hosted by the Nepal government.