border review | 6 January 2012

Illegality in the absence of passports

While in Nepal the deeper reasons for the sudden cancellation/postponement of Wen Jiabao’s visit are being discussed (Chinese security concerns over Tibetan protesters? Too much public gossiping in anticipation of the visit? The lack of diplomatic experience of Baburam Bhattarai’s administation? Or just Chinese internal matters, as officially claimed?) Nepal’s Deputy Prime Minister Bijay Kumar Gachchadar has visited Beijing and met with Minister of Public Security Meng Jianzhu. Xinhua notes that

China is ready to make joint efforts with Nepal to enhance coordination in exitand entry administration, intelligence and information sharing, and law-enforcement education and training, in a bid to push forward bilateral law-enforcement cooperation.

In other words: we would love to help you hunt down Tibetans illegally crossing the border to Nepal. There is good reason to believe that this is already the case, at least to some extent. Saransh Sehgal (Asia Times) quotes a recently arrived refugee:

I crossed the high mountains that took me many days and at last I arrived in Nepal where I spotted both Nepalese and Chinese patrol forces working together to stop and detain fleeing Tibetans.

In addition, the US embassy cables published by Wikileak also suggest that China rewards Nepali officers who hand over Tibetans, as Jon Krakauer reminds us (but remember, this is just a leaked US embassy cable – no hard evidence). In his recent piece for The New Yorker, Krakauer provides a good summary of the increasingly hard crackdown on Tibetans and the problem of Tibetan refugees in Nepal in general. Since the end of the 1980s Nepal has stopped accepting Tibetan refugees. They also stopped issuing refugee indentity certificates, known as R.C., which certainly made life more difficult for Tibtans in Nepal. However, under an informal agreement with UNHCR Nepal generally allowed Tibetan refugees to pass through Nepal on their way to India. This gentlement’s agreement is no longer followed, it seems. Nevertheless, the perspective of both Sehgal and Krakauer is to narrowly focussed on refugees fleeing Chinese repression. The reasons why Tibetans come to Nepal are manifold; they include business, pilgrimage, visiting friends and family, business, or simply as tourists. The problem is that most of them cannot do this legally because it is extremely difficult for Tibetans to get passports. Without passports, no visas. Would the Chinese government treat the Tibetans like any other ordinary citizens of the People’s Republic and process their passport applications within a week, the problem of illegal border-crossing would instantly fade away. After all, there is no law that forbids a Chinese citizen to leave the country.