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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
09KATHMANDU14 2009-01-06 08:33:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Kathmandu
Cable title:  

A SNAPSHOT AT KATHMANDU'S TIBETAN RECEPTION CENTER

Tags:   PREL PREF PHUM NP CH IN 
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R 060833Z JAN 09
FM AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 9606
INFO AMEMBASSY BEIJING 
AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 
AMCONSUL CHENGDU 
AMCONSUL CHENNAI 
AMCONSUL KOLKATA 
USMISSION GENEVA
					  C O N F I D E N T I A L KATHMANDU 000014 


DEPT FOR G, PRM, DRL; GENEVA FOR RMA

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/28/2018
TAGS: PREL PREF PHUM NP CH IN
SUBJECT: A SNAPSHOT AT KATHMANDU'S TIBETAN RECEPTION CENTER

Classified By: Ambassador Nancy J. Powell, Reasons 1.5 b,d


Summary
-------



1. (C) For months following the virtual closure of the
Tibet/Nepal border after the March 2008 protests in Lhasa,
almost no new arrivals came from Tibet to Kathmandu's Tibetan
Reception Center (TRC). By fall 2008 a small but steady
number of Tibetans began to arrive at the TRC. To gain a
picture of those who made the journey, post interviewed forty
Tibetans in late November at the TRC. Most stated that their
motivation for making the difficult journey was to practice
their religion freely. Almost everyone spoke of their
devotion to the Dalai Lama. Many also hoped to obtain a
better education for themselves or their children. The
refugees spoke of harassment by police and Chinese military,
of constraints on religious practice and other aspects of
daily life. For everyone, the journey was difficult, costly,
and dangerous. A strong Chinese presence on the border
continues to make it impossible for more than a few to leave.
End summary.

Overview


--------------------------





2. (C) As a result of China's effective closure of the
Tibet/Nepal border following the March 2008 protests in Lhasa
and the ensuing six months of near-constant protests in
Kathmandu, the TRC in Kathmandu saw only a handful of new
arrivals between March and September, 2008. Although in no
way approaching the numbers expected during a "normal" year,
summer's trickle of refugee arrivals at the TRC became a
small stream during the fall. In November 2007 the TRC saw
280 arrivals, in November 2008 there were 89. According to
reports from TRC officials and UNHCR, the fall arrivals
looked very much like those in previous years. In order to
gain a firsthand overview of the arrivals, however, Refcoord,
together with post's Tibetan-speaking Conoff and Tibetan Visa
Assistant, interviewed 40 of the 72 Tibetans present at the
TRC on November 26, 2008. In addition to the 40 interviewed,
10 adults declined to be interviewed and 22 children under
the age of 16 were not interviewed by mutual consent of the
TRC's management and Refcoord. The refugees were questioned
about their motives for leaving Tibet, methods of travel,
problems encountered during the journey, intentions and hopes
for the future, and about their backgrounds. All of those
interviewed had arrived in November, most in the two weeks
prior to the interview date.

Demographics


--------------------------





3. (C) In many ways, the arrivals interviewed did look very
much like the traditional pre-March arrivals, i.e., a
majority were under thirty (26) and male (27), almost half
were from Kham province, thirteen were monks, ten were
farmers and seven each identified themselves either as nomads
or as business people, three were students. When first asked
about their motives for leaving Tibet, virtually everyone
cited one or both of the two traditional motives: to seek an
audience with the Dalai Lama and to further their education.

Not Going Back


--------------------------





4. (C) Once past the initial, almost rote answers, virtually
all of those interviewed revealed more complex motives, most
stemming from heightened tensions in Tibet following the
March protests and increased pressures and restrictions from
the Chinese authorities. Significantly, all but two of those
interviewed said that they had no intention of ever returning
to China -- and the remaining two said they were uncertain
whether to stay in India and would reassess their options
later. This is in contrast to those who departed Tibet prior
to March, who often declared their intention to return after
they had obtained an education or achieved other goals in
India. Almost everyone - monks and laity - cited
restrictions on religious practice as a principal factor in
their decision to leave Tibet. Also mentioned, although less
often, were difficulties with ordinary business activities
and lack of opportunity to pursue higher education.

The Journey


--------------------------





5. (C) Another variance from pre-March arrivals was the
method of travel to Nepal. In previous, "normal" years, many
walked the majority of the way, making long and often
perilous journeys through mountain passes in fall and winter,
when the border was more lightly patrolled. By contrast,
virtually everyone interviewed said that the border was still
too heavily patrolled to permit that method of crossing.
With the exception of a few who did the journey to Nepal on
foot, all arranged their transport through a combination of
paying "guides" and/or Chinese officials quite substantial
sums of money -- ranging from about 4,000 to 10,000 yuan,
with most paying about 6,000 yuan (about $878) -- to effect
their passage.

Hidden in Trucks


--------------------------





6. (C) Individuals from the provinces reported generally
making their way to Lhasa via commercial transport. (The
monks, without exception, said that they felt compelled to
leave their robes and other indicators of monastic
affiliation behind, as they feared they would encounter
difficulties at the checkpoints, if not outright arrest if
they attempted travel in their monastic robes.) Once in
Lhasa, travelers either found someone to arrange their onward
travel to Nepal through friends and relatives or just by
asking around at Tibetan-run cafes. From Lhasa, the majority
of those interviewed (specifically those who were unable to
buy official or forged travel permits for the border region)
were hidden in the back of trucks and concealed in the middle
of the truck's cargo. At the border town of Dram or its
outskirts, most were off-loaded and met by their pre-arranged
guides. They then walked with the guides (a journey of 3 - 7
hours, depending on how far outside Dram they were deposited)
to a pre-arranged crossing point at the river dividing Tibet
and Nepal. They crossed the river via a rope and pulley
suspended above the river handled by a guide on each side.
They were generally then allowed to rest for several hours or
overnight at the home of the guide on the Nepali side of the
river before proceeding by car or truck to Kathmandu and the
TRC.



7. (C) One woman reported that she traveled in the back of a
truck from Shigatse to Dram for two and one/half days with
her own three children and four others. (Two children had
been entrusted to her care by other families in her village
and two by the guide in Lhasa who arranged their transport.)
The woman said that the group, which consisted of seven
children ranging in age from six to fourteen, and herself,
were not allowed out of the truck for the entire journey.
The group was hidden in a hollowed out area of the cargo
truck in a small space which she paced out during her
interview and which looked to be about five feet by six feet.
She said they designated one corner of the area as a toilet
and were allowed to eat and drink only what they had brought
with them.



8. (C) The few among those interviewed who managed to
acquire travel permits for the border area followed the same
pattern as the others once they arrived in Dram; meeting a
guide in Dram and then walking to the spot where they could
proceed across the river via the rope-and-pulley bridge. One
young man's aunt, a businesswoman in the border area and
frequent traveler between Nepal and Tibet, arranged for the
young man to accompany her through Chinese and Nepali border
formalities at the Friendship Bridge. His aunt, who was
known to Nepali and Chinese border authorities, simply paid
substantial bribes on both sides of the bridge.

On Foot


--------------------------





9. (C) Two of the people who walked from Tibet to Nepal were
young women who came together. The two, from nomad families
in Utsang, walked five and half days through the border area
to Nepal's Solukhumbu region to the district headquarters at
Lukla. They said that they intended to fly from Lukla to
Kathmandu but were initially not permitted to board by Nepali
police at the airport, who told them they would be deported
to China if they did not go back on their own. Instead, one
of the young women contacted a relative, who arranged for
them to obtain a letter from a local Nepali monastery stating
that they were nuns. They cut their hair, donned robes and,
with the aid of a bribe the relative paid to the airport
police, were permitted to fly to Kathmandu about 10 days
after their initial attempt. Both of the young women stated
during their interviews that their purpose for leaving was to
obtain an education and become nuns.



10. (C) Another woman who came on foot likewise walked from
Utsang to Nepal. The woman, who was 42 years old, walked by
herself for seven days carrying her (very active)
19-month-old son on her back. She described herself as a
farmer and said that she left to escape serious domestic
abuse and to protect her son and find a better life for him.
She stated that she came down through Thanchhemu in Nepal,
where she stayed for two months recuperating and gathering
resources for the rest of the journey. She said she was
given food, shelter and a tent by local shepherds and that a
distant relative paid for a ticket for her to fly from Lukla
to Kathmandu.



11. (C) The third group who traveled on foot was a family of
nomads consisting of a couple, their three children (aged 4,
6, and 7), and the wife's 17-year-old brother. The family
traveled from Saga to Mustang in Nepal and then from Mustang
to Pokhara, where they were helped by Tibetans there to reach
Kathmandu. The wife said that it was principally her
decision to leave Tibet. She said that she wanted her
children to be educated and that in their region children
from the age of eight were forced to attend a Chinese
boarding school, where they would lose their Tibetan culture
and the ability to practice their religion. She added that
the whole family intended to stay in India.



12. (C) The last group to travel by foot was a young woman
(18) from Namlingzho who was accompanied by her elder
brother. Her brother originally left Tibet in 1996. He had
attempted and failed four years previously to return to Tibet
to bring her to India. The young woman said that she and her
brother were escorted by a guide and that during the last
part of the trip, just before reaching Dram, they were chased
by police (or the army she wasn't sure which) with dogs.

Protests and Consequences - the Laity


--------------------------





13. (C) Every person interviewed from Lhasa -- and most from
other towns and rural areas -- reported a greatly heightened
police and army presence and an increased number of police
checkpoints in towns and on roads, with regular stops and
searches of public transport vehicles. All said that there
was a much more rigid adherence to the rules governing
residence permits, border permits, and citizenship cards and
that officials who in the past might be persuaded to look the
other way either were intent on enforcing residence or rules
or demanding (more than the usual) in bribes to look the
other way. Among the stories we heard:



14. (C) The young woman who traveled with her brother on foot
(para 11) said that she participated in protests in March in
Namlingzho. She said the police had photographed her
throwing a Chinese pressure cooker into a fire. She said
that, after the protests, the police came to her house many
times but that she usually managed to hide from them. She
stated that when the police returned in civilian clothes they
did talk to her, showing her the picture and demanding that
she go with them. She denied that the photo was of her and
said that she gave the police her phone number and that
through her insistence and by volunteering to talk to them
later, they went away. After that, she went into hiding for
five months and was eventually aided by her brother and
friends to leave. She also reported that during the same
protest where she threw the pressure cooker into the fire,
she saw two young men, fellow protesters, shot by the police.



15. (C) A woman who ran a guesthouse for foreign tourists in
Lhasa reported that she left Tibet with her 16-year-old
daughter after police came to take her away for interrogation
but returned her to her home because the police station was
overwhelmed with others being interrogated. When the police
brought her back to the guesthouse, they informed her they
would be back in a week. Unsurprisingly, the woman, a widow,
took that window of opportunity to escape Tibet with her only
child. The woman said that she had been questioned
repeatedly following the March protests about her frequent
phone calls to foreigners and that she had been told by the
police that her phone was tapped and warned to stop speaking
to foreigners. She said that the police who came to take her
away for interrogation also cited the phone calls to
foreigners as the reason for the detention. The woman added
that, generally, things in Lhasa were very bad, that the
police presence was very heavy with armed police posted on
rooftops all over the city and especially on the monasteries.
She said that a close friend had been shot and killed by
police during the protests.



16. (C) One man in his mid-thirties left Lhasa after being
caught at a police checkpoint in the city without a valid
residence permit. A businessman from Kham, he said that he
had tried and failed many times to obtain a residence permit
for Lhasa but had managed to travel back and forth between
Kham and Lhasa -- spending most of his time in Lhasa -- for
many years with just temporary permits. He stated that he
had been unsuccessful in obtaining a Lhasa permit despite the
fact that his wife is from Lhasa and does have a permit. He
was caught at the police checkpoint in October and reported
that he and about 20 others were rounded up at the
checkpoint, told they were being arrested, then marched on
foot toward a police station. He said he was able to escape
from the group before they reached the station and that he
left immediately afterward for Nepal. He said that he had
not participated in the protests because he had a broken leg
in March. He reported that life in Lhasa after March was
very difficult with Chinese police and armed soldiers
everywhere. He said that very few monks were seen on the
streets of Lhasa and that many had been arrested or were
staying within their monasteries. He added that most of the
monks arrested were visitors from Kham or Shigatse and that
the only monks on the streets were those with Lhasa residence
permits. Interestingly, this refugee's fifteen-year-old son
was also resident at the TRC, one of the 92 protesters
without status in Nepal handed over to UNHCR in September for
disposition by the Nepali government. The man said that he
hoped that his son, who ran away from school in Mussoorie,
India to join the protests in Kathmandu, would be readmitted
to school and that his pregnant wife, left behind in Lhasa,
would be able to join him and his son in India as soon as the
baby was born.

Protests and Consequences -- Monks


--------------------------





17. (C) Twelve of the thirteen monks interviewed reported
that life in their monasteries had become much more difficult
following the March protests. Most reported that religious
practices had been constrained within and outside the
monasteries and that their monasteries were under constant
surveillance. (The thirteenth monk, who was from the Shugden
sect, unsurprisingly claimed no official harassment or
interference at his monastery.) The other twelve all stated
that their motive for leaving Tibet was that the Chinese
intimidation and restrictions on religious life had become
intolerable to them. They also reported that Chinese
officials were uniformly keeping strict tabs on the number of
monks in the monastery and that no deviations from the
authorized limits were tolerated (whereas in the past local
officials were often known to look the other way).



18. (C) A 35-year-old monk from Lhagzhang monastery in Kham
reported that, after the March protests, the Chinese military
built a temporary camp surrounding the monastery buildings.
Monks with citizenship cards were allowed to go in and out of
the monastery, those without them were not. He also said
that the Chinese were forcing everyone to get new cards and
that not all those who previously had them were getting new
ones. He explained that the Chinese were making it very
difficult to apply for the new cards; each person had to
present his whole family history and a letter from the local
government confirming the right to remain. He said that the
Chinese had told monks in his monastery in September that
since the Olympics were over, more restrictions would come.
They had also been warned of this by a local government
official in the spring. The monk reported that all of the
monks had been told to sign statements against the Dalai Lama
and that they should publicly denounce him. The monk said
that, among themselves, the monks speak privately about those
who have been killed and their anger and fear. They are also
worried that the number of monks permitted at the monastery
will be reduced (although he confirmed that had not yet
happened).



19. (C) A 28-year-old monk from Amdo reported that this was
his second attempt to reach India. He had first tried to
transit Bhutan to India with five other Tibetans but that the
Bhutanese had caught them at the border and pushed them back.
They were then arrested by the Chinese. They were first
kept in a district prison for thirty days. Four of the six
were able to pay 5,000 yuan to be released. The guide was
kept in the prison and the monk was sent on to a special
prison in Shigatse for 80 days. He was then sent to an Amdo
district police station where he spent 15 days. He was
released after paying a 2,000 yuan fine. After his release,
he tried to return to his monastery but said the monastery
couldn't take him back because of Chinese surveillance.
Although imprisoned for trying to leave Tibet, he said he was
not beaten or otherwise abused while in prison. When he
could not be readmitted to his monastery, he said he tried to
go to Lhasa to study English but was stopped by the police,
who sent him back to Amdo. Since he saw no options in Tibet
and anxiety everywhere, he felt he had to try again to go to
India.



20. (C) A 23-year-old monk from Kham briefly reported that he
felt so restricted in his religious practices --
specifically, that he was not able to show due reverence to
the Dalai Lama -- that he felt compelled to leave Tibet.
Another young monk relayed similar feelings, saying that
there was no actual police presence at his monastery in
Darsedo, but that local officials had imposed so many
restrictions that he, likewise, felt there was no other
alternative but to leave Tibet. A monk from the Nyarong
district in Kham had a very similar story. No one in his
monastery was allowed out of the monastery from March until
after the Olympics, even then they were restricted from
travel. He said the police checked the monastery constantly
and that religious practices were severely restricted. He
said that there were three surveillance cameras in the
monastery so that religious practices could be observed. A
young man from Lithang, not himself a monk, said he
participated in protests during March and witnessed the
shooting of several nuns. He said the Chinese removed their
bodies and washed the street. (He stated that he left
because he created a logo for use by local business people
using a snow lion design which caused him to be questioned by
the police.) Two other monks reported that all the monks in
their monastery were forced to attend political education
meetings by the Chinese. Immediately after the March
protests, the meetings were held daily but by the summer had
decreased to twice weekly.

Problems with Education in Tibet


--------------------------





21. (C) Education was a frequently mentioned aspiration
during the interviews. The desire for an education that
included Tibetan cultural and religious practices was strong
and frequently mentioned. In addition, however, all of the
adults with children and several young people discussed the
poor quality of education available in Tibet. Several spoke
with great bitterness about the supposedly "free" education
that actually was only available after paying very steep
fees. Others spoke of compulsory education in Chinese
boarding schools. Several of the young people commented that
their teachers in Tibet were incompetent, often playing games
with each other, sleeping, gambling, and drinking during
school hours and that little teaching occurred.

Comment


--------------------------





22. (C) Among the forty people interviewed, almost everyone
reported harassment by Chinese officials and a pervasive,
intimidating police and military presence, particularly in
urban areas. Interestingly, although many of those
interviewed had heard of Tibetans being killed and
imprisoned, only a few reported personally knowing anyone who
had been imprisoned or killed. If this group at all reflects
the larger Tibetan population, however, the Chinese
government's actions since March seem to have been successful
in creating a climate of fear sufficient to stifle public
dissent -- at least for now.


POWELL