Tibetans in Nepal: UNHCR seriously concerned

Briefing Notes, 30 May 2003

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 30 May 2003, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is extremely concerned about the fate of 18 Tibetans detained by Nepalese authorities since April 17 amid indications that Chinese authorities are demanding that they be returned to China.

The detained Tibetans have requested UNHCR's assistance and we have strong reason to believe that they would be of concern to us. However, despite several requests, we have not had access to the 18 so that we can assess their claims through individual interviews. According to agreed procedures regularly used by Nepal and UNHCR in the past, we would facilitate the onward travel to a third country of any Tibetan new arrivals in Nepal who are found to be of concern to us.

The 18 Tibetans were part of a group of 21 who arrived in Nepal in mid-April. The other three are children who have been released to UNHCR's care.

Chinese officials in Kathmandu yesterday stated to UNHCR their intention to take this group back to China. This prompted our office in Nepal to send an urgent letter to the Nepalese Prime Minister's office requesting that Nepal not hand them over, but instead release them to the care of UNHCR so we can ascertain their claims. Our mandate is to protect asylum seekers until such time as their claim and their status have been determined. Returning people before their status is determined would amount to refoulement and would be in clear contravention of international law.

UNHCR is seeking Nepal's urgent cooperation on this matter.