U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2007 - Nepal



Refoulement/Physical Protection

There were reports that Nepal handed Tibetan asylum seekers back to Chinese authorities. In July, the Department of Immigration arrested eight Tibetans traveling without documents and deported them to India.

There was occasional violence between Bhutanese refugees residing in camps and the surrounding population. In February 2007, a clash between refugees in Sanischare camp and the local community over firewood resulted in the death of one refugee, injury to eight, and the burning of several huts in the camp. The refugee camps were in areas under the tacit control of the Maoist insurgency, and there had been no police presence since 2003. Sexual and gender-based violence and physical assaults were major problems in the camps. At the end of 2006, the Government reinstated police posts in some of the seven camps, but in most there were none and no street lighting. According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), "Dissatisfaction and rebellion amongst refugee adolescent boys posed a serious threat to safety and security in the camps." There were 174 reported incidents of sexual and gender-based violence in the camps, a nine percent increase from the year before, 88 of them cases of domestic violence, a six percent increase from the year before but 52 percent higher than 2004.

Nepal was not party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and had no refugee law, but its 1992 Immigration Act allowed the Government to exempt "any class, group, nationality or race from any or all of [its] provisions," and the 1988 Extradition Act prohibited extradition for "political crimes." The Government conducted status determinations solely for Bhutanese through a 1993 "Modus Operandi" outlining procedures for granting asylum but no criteria. UNHCR had observer and advisory status in the screening process. Applicants could appeal negative decisions to a three-member board with two government officials and one UNHCR representative, which made decisions jointly. The 1958 Foreigners Act and administrative directives determined refugees' legal rights.

According to the Government, some 107,500 Bhutanese refugees stayed in seven camps located in the Jhapa and Morang districts in eastern Nepal and some 10,000 outside the camps. Although the Government recognized those who arrived in the early 1990s as prima facie refugees, thereafter it required individual refugee status determinations. The Government granted 32 Bhutanese refugee status during the year, about 1,000 awaited initial determinations in early 2007, and about 300 were on appeal from prior rejections. During 2006, UNHCR granted refugee status to nearly 200 individuals.

There were about 20,500 Tibetans refugees residing in Nepal and UNHCR helped about 2,400 Tibetans transit to a third country. Since 1990, Nepal has not permitted new Tibetan arrivals to seek asylum, instead allowing them to travel on to India or other countries. Before January 1990, Nepal recognized about 97 percent of the Tibetans as refugees but did not formally recognize some. The instability from the conflict between the Government and Maoist insurgents hindered support for the Tibetan refugees and slowed their processing for transit.

UNHCR recognized about 360 refugees and asylum seekers from other countries but the Government did not respect refugee status under UNHCR's mandate.

Detention/Access to Courts

In October, Nepal fined a Tibetan man for not carrying proper identification documents and, because he could not pay, sentenced him to detention of up to 22 months. Nepal arrested some newly arrived Tibetans and other nationals for immigration offenses and held some until they paid immigration fees. In 2005, police reportedly detained over 100 Tibetans and turned them over to the Department of Immigration, which prosecuted 26 of them for violating immigration laws. All of them received heavy penalties, but authorities released them after they paid fines. The law allowed the police to hold suspects for 25 days without a court appearance, but security forces occasionally held prisoners longer and refugees had difficulty obtaining bail. UNHCR, its implementing partners, and other organizations had access to detainees of concern to them. A UNHCR implementing partner provided legal aid to refugees and asylum seekers in urban areas whose immigration violation cases went to court.

Neither UNHCR nor the Government provided Bhutanese refugees with individual identity documents. In November, in response to UNHCR's longstanding request, the Government began conducting a census of the camps and issuing cards to families based entirely on information about the senior member of the household, usually male. Tibetan refugees residing in Nepal prior to 1990 were eligible for government-issued Refugee Cards, valid for one year, but more than 4,600 did not receive them. At the age of 16, the Government no longer listed Tibetan refugee children on their parents' cards nor issued them their own cards. The cards for Bhutanese and Tibetans documented their right to remain in Nepal but provided no other rights including civil registration of birth, death, or marriage.

UNHCR gave refugees and asylum seekers in urban areas individual certificates with photographs that defined their status in Nepal, and law enforcement officials generally respected them as identity documents.

The 1990 Constitution provided that "No person shall be denied the equal protection of the laws" and that "No person shall be deprived of his personal liberty save in accordance with law" and extended most criminal procedure protections to all persons, with some exceptions for citizens of enemy states. It reserved for citizens, however, its specific protections against discrimination in the application of laws or other functions of the state on grounds of religion, race, sex, caste, or tribe. Generally, refugees had access to courts, including for civil matters, but only citizens had standing to challenge the constitutionality of a law before the Supreme Court. One woman with UNHCR legal aid pressed charges against her husband for battery, and the court convicted and sentenced him to three years in prison. The Government made no progress, however, on the 2004 case of Lukla police sexually abusing two Tibetan refugee girls.

Freedom of Movement and Residence

Since the 1990s, Nepal restricted Bhutanese refugees to seven camps in the Jhapa and Morang districts in the east. Camp rules required them to obtain prior permission and passes to leave the camp for more 24 hours and to return within a week. Authorities generally granted requests for passes, but in August, Jhapa authorities, with UNHCR approval, suspended the passes in order to restrict refugee anti-resettlement protests. Officials suspended ration cards if refugees stayed outside the camps without permission. Tibetans who arrived before 1990 and refugees in urban areas enjoyed freedom of movement and could live where they wished if they had refugee cards. Tibetan refugees stayed at the Tibetan Refugee Transit Center in Swayambhu before continuing to India.

The 1990 Constitution reserved its protection of freedom of movement and residence to citizens. The 1958 Foreigners Act authorized the Government to compel foreigners to live in places it prescribed and mandated two years' imprisonment for violations.

For international travel, Bhutanese refugees had to apply to camp officials, who recommended them with photo attestation to the Refugee Coordination Unit in Jhapa, which recommended them to the National Unit for Coordination of Refugee Affairs in the Ministry of Home Affairs, which recommended them to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which issued the necessary documents.

Nepal stopped issuing travel documents and exit permits in October 2005. In May 2006, the Government resumed issuing travel documents to refugees it recognized, i.e., Bhutanese and pre-1990 Tibetans, and, in June, resumed issuing exit permits for newly arrived Tibetan refugees. Refugees of other nationalities whom UNHCR recognized under its mandate were eligible for neither. More than 2,400 newly arrived Tibetans registered with UNHCR for transit to India, and more than 2,900 departed, the difference coming from a backlog of nearly 1,000 from the previous year. Tibetans had to apply to the Chief District Administrative Office and obtain approval from the Ministry of Home Affairs.

In September, in response to pressure from resettlement states, the Government agreed to allow third countries to resettle 16 Bhutanese refugees but only allowed three of them to leave by year's end. Other countries accepted 52 refugees residing in Kathmandu for resettlement, but the Government had not issued them exit permits by year's end. Some Tibetans left on their own to seek asylum or family reunification in other countries.

Right to Earn a Livelihood

The 1990 Constitution reserved its protection of the right to engage in work, professions, trade, or industry or to form unions to citizens. The 1992 Labor Act greatly restricted employment of foreigners without exception for refugees. If no Nepali was available for a skilled post after national advertising, managers could apply to the Labor Department for permission to hire foreigners for the posts. In such cases, after investigation, the Labor Department could grant permits for two years at a time but for no more than five years in total. Managers had to make arrangements to replace the foreigners by training Nepalis and, according to the 1993 Labor Rules, lay off foreigners first in case of retrenchment. Penalties could be as high as $148 (10,000 Rupees) per instance and $1.48 (100 Rupees) per day. Camp rules specifically forbade Bhutanese refugees from engaging in livelihoods. The small number able to work illegally did so without protection of labor legislation or social security and often had to pay bribes or use false documents. Refugees could not legally operate businesses, own property or bank accounts, or obtain drivers licences.

Camp rules also restricted Bhutanese refugees from engaging in almost any income generating activity aside from small cottage industries, such as making sanitary napkins, chalk, blankets, and jute roofing materials. Authorities tolerated some illegal work where there were shortages such as teaching in remote schools. District authorities shut down activities the central government permitted, especially projects making goods that locals used to sell to aid agencies, such as soap.

The 1994 Immigration Rules required foreigner investors to invest at least $1 million in order to get a residential visa. The Government generally tolerated Tibetans who entered the country prior to 1990 running small handicraft businesses in the informal sector, such as carpet weaving. In June, however, authorities prevented some 70 Tibetan street merchants from selling their wares near the Boudanath Stupa. Some refugees in urban areas ran businesses with locals in unenforceable partnerships, paid bribes, or used false documents to obtain Nepali citizenship to hold title to property. The 1990 Constitution reserved the rights to acquire, to own, to sell, and to otherwise dispose of property to citizens but provided that "The State shall not, except in the public interest, requisition, acquire or create any encumbrance on, the property of any person."

Public Relief and Education

UNHCR described living conditions in the camps as "deplorable" due to overcrowding and disrepair of dwellings and latrines. In June, hundreds came down with fever and respiratory illnesses. In January 2007, poor insulation in the bamboo huts caused some 30 refugees per day, mostly children, to report to the hospital with pneumonia and asthma in three camps in Jhapa district. In December 2005, UNHCR had switched the refugees' cooking fuel from kerosene to cheaper briquettes made from compressed coal dust, which produced much more smoke. Inadequate fuel rations also compelled refugees to look for firewood outside the camps, which led to conflict with locals such as the clash in February 2007 that killed one.

In the camps, the World Food Programme (WFP) gave basic rations, while UNHCR and its implementing partners provided housing materials, water, supplemental food, sanitation, and health services. In December, WFP announced that donors had not funded it for the next two years and that it would cut rations. Donors restored some funding in February 2007. UNHCR's implementing partners, such as Lutheran World Federation, aided host communities. UNHCR supported health services for refugees and asylum seekers in urban areas, though there were limitations on referrals and expensive treatments. Refugees generally had access to national health services on par with locals but some hospitals charged foreigners double. Outside the UNHCR partner hospital, refugees had to pay.

Within the camps, UNHCR provided education to grade eight. Caritas and others provided education to grade 10 and partial support for grades 11 and 12. With international aid, Tibetan refugees attended primary schools. Non-Tibetan refugees and asylum seekers in urban areas had to pay for their children's private schooling.

Tibetan refugees, with help from Tibetans abroad, had their own educational and medical systems. In November, however, the Government revoked without explanation the registration of the Bhota Welfare Society, an NGO run by Nepalis that aided Tibetan refugees.

Nepal cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies helping refugees and asylum seekers and earmarked a contribution to the WFP for camp refugees. The Government did not, however, include refugees in the 2003 Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper it prepared for international donors, nor did donors include refugees in their development plans. Refugees outside camps did not receive rations, nonfood items, or education.


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