As the death toll from the 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck Nepal has climbed to over 4,400 casualties and rescuers struggle to deal with the scale of devastation brought on by the disaster, the fate of tens of thousands of undocumented Tibetan refugees scattered across isolated villages in the country has been called to question.
Tibetans have been crossing the Himalayas to India through Nepal since China overran Tibet in 1959, and while some have been held at refugee centers in Kathmandu, only a minority of second-generation Tibetans have obtained Nepalese citizenship. The rest of them are living illegally without status or residency rights, and have settled in remote villages across the mountains near the Chinese border—one of the zones heavily affected by the quake. But as the BBC reports, “those that have perished cannot be identified formally because officially they do not exist.”
One of these ethnic Tibetan villages is called Bridim, which borders Tibet just north of Kathmandu and is among the poorest of the poor rural villages in the nation.
Carla Teixeira Alvares Kaspar works at the Dolma Development Fund, one of the few NGOs to offer services for Tibetan tribals in Nepal—including a school near Bridim which has taken in over 500 ethnic Tibetan children and orphans. She told BBC reporters that “Bridim is practically razed to the ground”.
“We have no idea how many people have survived. There are no rescue missions operating in such isolated areas.”
“There is little communication and power. For refugees, this is the last straw. It was impossible before. There is so much destruction in Kathmandu,” she added.
The status of Tibetans in Nepal has become increasingly unstable as China’s presence has become more significant in the landlocked country. It’s speculated that the Nepalese government turned down Taiwan’s offer of assistance after the quake because it didn’t want to step on China’s toes—a decision that prompted criticism from observers who said the government was putting “politics ahead of lives”.
Meanwhile, in their efforts to tip-toe around China’s feelings, diplomats offering condolences to the victims of the quake have failed to leave out the neighboring Tibetans, who were also hit by tragedy.
According to Politico:
The White House spokesman offered the U.S. government’s “deepest condolences to … the families of those who died in Nepal, but also the families of those who died in India and Bangladesh.” But he neglected to mention another region directly affected by the earthquake’s devastation—dozens of deaths have been reported in Tibet […]
Earnest’s phrasing Monday echoed a statement made Saturday by NSC spokesperson Bernadette Meehan, who referred to “widespread damage and loss of life in Nepal, India and Bangladesh.”
Xinhua reported today that the death toll in Tibet has risen to 25 and is likely to increase. Nearly 80 percent of the homes in Gyirong, Tingri and Nyalam counties have collapsed, and Zham town of the latter county has felt over 20 aftershocks which have triggered landslides and avalanches.