Wednesday, 19 June 2008
Thomas Mann opened the meeting, which was not on the usual day or time. The arrangement for future meetings is still unclear, they might even be in Brussels, or even Thursday afternoons. This was quite unacceptable. Intergroups are an essential part of the European Parliament’s work and should enjoy the right to meet at a convenient time.
Thomas then introduced Lama Jampa Phuntsok, Principal of the Srongtsen Bhrikuti Boarding High School in Kathmandu, Nepal, and Mr. Sonam Thinley, Secretary of the School. He added that he had travelled to Nepal in 2006 to look at the preparations for the election, and visited Tibetan camps in Kathmandu.
Lama Phuntsok thanked Mr. Mann for his invitation to come to the Tibet Intergroup meeting, and since his English was not so good as that of Mr Thinley, he asked him to give an explanation of the present situation in Kathmandu.
Mr. Thinley said that since 10 March this year Tibetans in Nepal have participated in several peaceful demonstrations, interrupted only during election week and again as a tribute to Chinese earthquake victims at the end of May.
But there was clear evidence of human rights violations by the Nepalese police, who use immense force. Demonstrators were brutally beaten, but since the UNHCR put pressure on the government things have slightly improved. However demonstrators are still being choked, kicked and punched by the police without journalists seeing this. One demonstrator had both legs broken. No female police were available, so female demonstrators were manhandled by the Nepalese police. These activities only served to remind Mr. Thinley of the difficult moments he has experienced as a Tibetan living in Nepal, without any basic rights and freedoms. His mother left Tibet at 16, fleeing over the Himalayan mountains to reach Nepal. He learned many beautiful poems about Tibet during his school years and often tried to picture himself in Tibet. When he met people who had been to Tibet, he wished that he would one day have the chance to sleep in his own country and touch the Tibetan soil, and promise his parents and grandparents that they would all one day go back to their home: Tibet.
With the end of the Constituent assembly elections, the Kingdom of Nepal is now declared a republican country. The ex-King has left the Royal Palace and lives as an ordinary citizen. The Maoists won in the elections and Tibetans are afraid that the situation will worsen, especially concerning Tibetan issues in Nepal. The new government is under pressure from the Chinese government regarding Tibetan issues. The government regards Tibet as an integral part of China. Each year around 3000 Tibetans escape from Tibet via Nepal. Since 1989, Nepal ceased to permit newly arriving Tibetans to remain or seek refuge in Nepal. Thos Tibetans who arrived before 1989 were given a Refugee card, but this means only a permit to reside in Nepal. One cannot own property or a business. Travelling is restricted in some parts of the border with China. One can rarely travel internationally with this permit. Some countries recognise the permit, such as the USA. To apply for travel documents is expensive. Theoretically Tibetan refugees in Nepal are eligible for citizenship, but this is not a viable option. The Nepal Citizenship Act permits an adult to apply if he or she:
has the ability to speak and write the national language of Nepal;
has renounced citizenship of any other state;
is a member of any profession in Nepal;
has resided in Nepal for at least 15 years;
is a citizen of a country that permits naturalized citizenship to citizens of Nepal;
is of good moral character, etc.
But these laws remain in the law books. Out of roughly 20,000 Tibetans in Kathmandu and Pokhara alone, nearly 50% or more Tibetans do not possess a Refugee Card or have citizenship.
Newly arrived Tibetans normally arrive in the Tibetan Reception Centre in Kathmandu and then leave for India, mostly to get an audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and then to join a school or a monastery.
Four Tibetan Schools were established in Kathmandu during the eighties for Tibetan refugees. The main objectives of these schools are to preserve the Tibetan language, culture, tradition and religion. All schools are of different levels, i.e. Primary, Secondary, High School and Higher Secondary School. But science students who want to continue in further education have to go to India for two or more years as there is no Tibetan Higher Secondary school that provides science education. Refuge cards are not considered as legitimate to obtain admission to the majority of colleges in Nepal. Whilst all young people in Nepal face unemployment to some extent, for Tibetans it is aggravated by legal and social discrimination. And private businesses, from which Tibetans are not barred by law, nonetheless hesitate to hire qualified Tibetans when Nepalese young people also need jobs.
Due to the very limited access to education, proper documents, job opportunities, career building, and a secured future, living in Nepal for Tibetans is very difficult. That is why many Tibetans young people prefer seeking asylum in developed countries.
The Srongsten Bhrikuti Boarding High School was established in 1982. In the beginning it operated in a rented house and the number of students was barely 100. Now there are 700 students. Classes run from kindergarten to Class 10. In view of the many difficulties Tibetan students living in Nepal are facing, there are plans to upgrade the school into a higher secondary school that will provide two more years of education for Tibetan refugees willing to study science. New classrooms and other basic infrastructure are needed and the estimated budget for this project is around 40,000 Euros.
In reply to questions, Mr. Thinley said that most children finish their studies in the Srongtsen Bhrikuti school around 10 or 12 years old and then go to India. Not all higher education establishments cater for Tibetan speaking students so English is used. Financing of the school comes from school fees and donations from different sources, and not from the Tibetan government in exile nor from the Nepalese government. Mr. Sógor Csaba said there were similar problems in Romania, and not to be discouraged! He hoped the EU would react and wished that there were common laws in all countries. Thomas Mann referred to the fact that Tibetan students and refugees can go to the US and become US citizens, and asked if that is really what Tibetans want? Mr. Thinley said that an older generation of Tibetan refugees liked to stay in Nepal or India because they could meet the Tibetan community, and celebrate together religious festivals or other occasions, keeping their culture and traditions. But rights and freedom are very limited so nowadays many young Tibetans do want to settle in developed countries and enjoy freedom and rights there.
Gabriela pointed out that many sponsored Tibetans living in India, having had a good education; go to Canada or America instead of using their qualifications to help other Tibetans. They should spend at least two years helping new refugees coming from Tibet. Mr Thinley replied that college or university places were still very limited for Tibetans. There is the Tibetan Institute of Medical Studies in Dharamsala, but students must agree that they will serve the community for at least two years after their studies. Michel Jermann spoke of a young Tibetan girl who trained in teaching and came to Strasbourg for courses and learned a great deal about teaching and psychomotor skills. She has been working for 3 years but wanted to go to the United States, where she is now doing housework.
But she fulfilled her dream. A Nepalese identity card has to be obtained in order to travel and the only solution is to engage in corruption - anything from 1,500 to 2,000 Euros to get the necessary card. Tibetans in Nepal have access to very little, cannot get a driving licence, or travel, or get jobs, etc. So it’s a question of leaving for a better life elsewhere. Studies past Bachelor level lead nowhere, so leaving Nepal is a legitimate wish.
Thomas Mann also mentioned that Tibet seemed to have faded into the background as far as the media was concerned. There should be an emergency debate at the next plenary session and people should be encouraged not to watch the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games. Mr. Poettering will not be attending. Political statements should be made, it was important to keeping the flag flying on the Tibetan issue.
Mr. Tunne Kelma from Estonia fully agreed with these remarks and said that Estonia’s President will not be attending the Olympic Games nor will he send a representative. But those who go to Beijing should voice other opinions – the Chinese are bound to be sensitive to this.
Mr. Csaba referred to the fact that a big Minorities Bill is passing through the Romanian Parliament, as there are many minorities in Romania. They are important parts of the community and should be kept intact.
Gabriela said that an Urgent Resolution should be passed on the state of Tibetan prisoners in Tibet. It is known that they are being severely tortured, do not have enough food, some are dying from hunger. An independent group from an international organisation, UNESCO or another, should go to Tibet and see what is going on. If there is no news in the media this does not mean that nothing is going on.