UNHCR gravely concerned about deported Tibetans

Press Releases, 31 May 2003

31 May 2003

GENEVA The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees today (Saturday) expressed grave concern about the fate of 18 Tibetan asylum seekers deported to China by Nepal. The Nepalese authorities decided to go ahead with the deportation on Saturday, ignoring last-minute appeals by the UN refugee agency and human rights groups. UNHCR learned that the deported group included eight unaccompanied minors, some as young as 13.

UNHCR officials described the move as a blatant violation of Nepal's obligations under international law.

The 18 were part of a group of 21 Tibetans who arrived in Nepal in mid-April. Three children from the group were handed over to UNHCR, but despite numerous pleas the Nepalese authorities refused UNHCR access to the rest of the group.

On Friday, UNHCR sent an urgent letter to the Nepalese Prime Minister's office, urging the government not to send back the Tibetans and pointing out that such a move would represent an act of "refoulement" prohibited by international refugee law. The urgent plea was made amid reports that Nepal was contemplating a deportation of the group.

Until now, the Nepalese authorities have allowed UNHCR to screen Tibetan asylum seekers and resettle them in third countries in accordance with the UN refugee agency's mandate. The "refoulement" Saturday represents an alarming departure from that practice.