27th May 2017

Refugee Protection and Legal Aid

Nepal has been providing asylum on humanitarian grounds to persons who seek refuge since immemorial times. This practice has been based on humanitarian grounds and on Nepal’s traditions of respect for human rights. However, Nepal despite these strong humanitarian and Human Rights traditions still lacks a solid protection mechanism such as refugee policy and legal framework. Refugees and asylums seekers who flee their country of origin or permanent residence because of threat to their life, liberty need to be provided protection according to the universally accepted human rights norms and principles. Refugees hold the right of not being expelled from the country of asylum to a country where they would face serious threats to their life or freedom, which is also called the principle of non-refoulement. It is considered as part of customary international law, widely practiced by the civilized nations of the world.

Although, Nepal has expressed its commitment towards respecting human rights by ratifying and acceding to many key international human rights instruments. The human rights situation of refugees in Nepal remains unsatisfactory. Human rights mean the rights of all persons regardless of their nationality, race, religion, political opinion or membership to a particular social group. This also includes rights of refugees. Currently, Nepal has been providing shelter to thousands of refugees and asylum seekers from different countries of the world. Bhutanese and Tibetans are the major refugee groups living in Nepal. There are also other asylum seekers and refugee groups who live in various urban centers in Nepal (mainly Kathmandu and around the Kathmandu valley).

PPR Nepal has been advocating for the protection and promotion of refugee rights in Nepal for many years. Providing free legal aid service and psycho-social counseling are some specific areas of concern and priority of PPR Nepal. More importantly it has played a significant role in creating RefWAN and RefLAN. PPR Nepal has also contributed to the development of the model refugee legislation in Nepal and has been one of the active NGOs advocating for the enactment of refugee law. It is also a member of the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN) working for the protection and promotion of refugee rights and protection in the Asia Pacific region.

Refugee Watch Nepal (RefWaN)

Refugee Watch Nepal (RefWaN) is a high level committee consisting of leaders from different civil society organizations, NGOs, human rights activists, academics and lawyers. It is a committee of experts who have a long experience and track record of working in the field of human rights, specifically refugee rights and protection in Nepal and in the region. The committee has been formed in 2010 with the view of collaborating, coordinating, and providing required suggestions and advice to the organizations working for refugee rights in Nepal. The RefWaN aims at protecting and promoting refugee rights in Nepal through the implementation of various activities required in this field.

Refugee Legal Aid Lawyers' Network Nepal (RefLAN)

Refugee Legal Aid Lawyers' Network Nepal (RefLAN) is a network of lawyers aiming at providing pro bono legal aid to refugees. The network has been created in 2013 to provide legal aid to refugees and serves as a forum of exchange for lawyers and aims at improving refugee legal aid services. RefLAN aims at bringing significant changes in the situation of refugee rights protection in Nepal through coordination, collaboration and cooperation among various actors. The major objectives of the Network includes advocacy for refugee rights, carry out research on critical refugee issues, providing free legal aid to the refugees and asylum seekers, and detention monitoring.

Refugees and asylum seekers are one of the vulnerable groups of people who face multiple challenges to protect their life, liberty and personal integrity in a different land that the ones they belonged to. Their life is always miserable and uncertain as they are deprived of enjoying basic fundamental rights as human being like right to life, liberty and property.

Hence PPR Nepal seeks to address some major issues through proper advocacy:

  •     To work for the establishment of a proper refugee registration and screening mechanism in the country,
  •     To work for the promulgation of uniform refugee policy and concrete legal framework based on the core international human rights and refugee rights principles, norms and standards,
  •     To work for providing adequate legal protection to asylum seekers and refugees residing in Nepal,
  •     To work for providing proper identification document to the existing refugee population in Nepal
  •     To work for ensuring their right to non-refoulement by bringing a halt to forced return of refugees.

Refugee is a global phenomena and a common problem of the global community. Refugees and asylum seekers are very vulnerable groups who are always in a dire need of protection. The international community has played important role in solving refugee problem throughout the world. According to UNHCR, currently Nepal is hosting more than 50,000 refugees and asylum seekers from different parts of the world that includes 30,255 Bhutanese, 20,000 Tibetan and 550 urban refugees and asylums seekers. Tibetan refugees were the first recognized group of refugees by the Government of Nepal, who first entered into Nepal in 1959 AD. The Bhutanese refugee influx began in 1989 AD.

Nepal has generously been hosting a large number of refugees, mainly from Bhutan, for many decades. However, in the absence of any formal refugee legislation, the Government has adopted different approaches to deal with different refugee populations. PPR Nepal and other civil society organizations along with UNHCR have been advocating for the adoption of a national refugee legal framework and Nepal's accession to international refugee instruments. There are three major groups of refugees in Nepal.

Bhutanese Refugees:

Bhutanese refugees are still the largest group of refugees in Nepal, even though the number of third country resettled has reached around 90,000 by the beginning of 2014. They are the Nepalese language speaking group of people who fled Bhutan in late 1990s, known as Lhotshampa.

Urban Refugees:

There are significant number of urban refugees and asylum seekers who have sought for the international protection under the UNHCR's global mandate, despite of the recognition of the government of Nepal to them as illegal immigrants since Nepal lacks any kind of refugee protection regime till date. The number of urban refugee keeps fluctuating sometimes reaching up to 600. Urban refugee community comprises of people from Pakistan, Myanmar, Somalia, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and others.

Tibetan Refugees:

The Tibetan refugee crisis was first started in 1959. The recent population of Tibetan refugees has been estimated of about 20,000, who live in the twelve different settlements across the country. The government of Nepal doesn't provide refugee status to the Tibetan population who entered Nepal after 1990. They are called Tibetan New Arrivals and just provided safe passage to Dharmashala India for pilgrimage where the holy leader Dalai Lama resides, as per "Gentlemen's Agreement". The second generation of Tibetan refugees born in Nepal lacks any kind of legal documentations such as birth registration, refugee identity card and so on. They are in legal limbo.

In Nepal, current protection interventions are based largely on humanitarian concerns for refugees and asylum seekers. PPR Nepal recognizes the need not only to address the immediate protection needs of the population of concern but also to put into place a comprehensive legal-policy framework and sustainable mechanism that will effectively address the problem in the long-run. PPR Nepal has been working and advocating for this purpose since couple of years in collaboration and cooperation with other civil society organizations working in the field along with UNHCR.

Refugees and asylum seekers have been suffering from various problems such as improper registration, lack of registration and proper identity documents, restriction on freedom of movement, deportation or denial to humanitarian access, overstaying visa fine and hardship in getting exit permit and access to justice as a human being.

PPR Nepal has been working to fill the gap in current assistance efforts undertaken by the host country, UNHCR, other I/NGOs by supporting them in their work and by endeavoring new initiatives which have not yet been pursued.

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