About the Author: Atul Keshap is Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs.
When I travel in South Asia, I always appreciate the opportunity to visit cultural and community organizations to learn more about the rich history and traditions of the region's many unique peoples. In Nepal, the ethnic Tibetan (and Tibetan refugee) community is an important part of the tapestry. Tibetans have been crossing the Himalayas for centuries to engage in trade, but Tibetans began living in exile in Nepal only 50 years ago. Although it is impossible to get an accurate count, current estimates put the number of Tibetans in Nepal between 15,000 and 20,000. The Himalayan Society for Youth and Women, located in a Tibetan neighborhood of Kathmandu called Boudha, helps these Tibetans maintain their culture in their adopted home, offers scholarships to indigent youth, and provides practical support to those who are trying to develop themselves and their community.
The Nepalese Government and people have been welcoming and supportive of the needs of Tibetans -- support which the U.S. Government and I greatly appreciate -- but the community does face challenges. Of particular concern to the Himalayan Society was the difficulty young Tibetans in Nepal have in obtaining documentation of their legal status here. Without this documentation, they are more at risk of harassment from the police, more subject to demands for bribery, and cannot even get the travel documents that would let them study or work in a different country.
I, like many Americans, cannot help but feel for the Tibetans living outside their home. And the difficulties the Tibetan community, and especially its youth, face are real and daunting. During my meeting with Nepal's Home Minister, Ambassador DeLisi and I discussed refugee issues and expressed our appreciation for the openness and generosity of the Nepali people toward Tibetans, Bhutanese, and other refugee communities. I commend the Nepalese Government for its compassion over the years toward the Tibetan community, and strongly support the work of organizations, like the Himalayan Society, that actively build Tibetans' capacity to contribute to the development and enrichment of Nepal.