Managing migration

Published On: January 2, 2018 01:00 AM NPT By: Umesh K Bhattarai

Taking advantage of open border, India pushed Bhutanese Nepalis into Nepal, which was itself in dire need of international support to promote democracy.

Migration has remained a consistent feature of Nepal. From 17th century onwards, we have been migrating from harsh climatic region to moderate climate regions for survival. People migrate from barren lands to comparatively fertile places where cultivation is easy for better life and comfort. The scarce resources and human wish to control them have invites conflict. 

Most migration has taken place in areas lying around banks of big rivers all over the world. Migration takes place in the quest of resources as well. Communities, villages, cities and even countries have evolved based on specific faith, ethnicity and tribal affiliation.

Antipathy to faith and ethnicity of others has also invited confrontation between two communities. Ethnic cleansing in Myanmar, for example, has its roots in migration. Migrants in the Middle-East, North Africa, Europe, Papua New Guinea and Australia are facing tough times. Nepal has also faced problems with migration of Bhutanese and Tibetan refugees. 

Gradual shift in population pattern also creates problem in national integration. Although Nepal is multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-lingual republic with Hindu domination, population of this country can be broadly categorized as Tibeto-Burman from the north and Aryans who migrated to Nepal from the south. Diversity in ethnicity has posed challenges to national integration efforts of Nepal.

Whether it is the Jews killed by Adolf Hitler in World War II or Rohingya Muslim minorities who are forcefully displaced from Myanmar or killing of Bosnian-Serb male Muslims in Srebrenica in 1995—they are the result of ethnic cleansing under state’s policy dominated by majority communities. Bhutanese of Nepali origin were settled in southern Bhutan during 1770 when King Prithvi Narayan Shah invaded Sikkim and east to block British East-India Company in that periphery.  Though they contributed to Bhutan’s stability and development, Bhutan expelled more 1, 00,000 Nepali speaking Bhutanese out of its territory in 1990. 

Since Nepal and Bhutan do not share common border, these Nepalis first entered India as refugees. Taking advantage of open border, India pushed most of them into Nepal which was itself in dire need of international support to promote democracy at the time. Most of them have been resettled in the US, Europe and Australia despite their will go back to their own country to live as proud Bhutanese. 

Cross-border migration 

A large number of Nepalis—around four million according to informal estimate—live in India today. The same number of Indians is estimated to live in Nepal. The Indo-Nepal Peace and Friendship Treaty of 1950 allows free access and mobility for the citizens of the two countries.  The tripartite Gorkha Recruitment Treaty of 1947 between Nepal, Britain and India allows Nepalis to serve in British as well as Indian Army. This provision has provided an opportunity for a large Nepali community to live in both India and Britain. 

Ironically, although large number of Nepalis works outside the country, country’s labor demand is fulfilled by neighboring India. The southern plains of Nepal are densely occupied by migrants from adjoining Indian states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. They pose threat to stability and development of both Nepal and India. In view of Nepal’s geopolitical situation and its size, India may be able to absorb even the whole of Nepali population, but even if a fraction of Indian population migrates to Nepal, Nepal won’t be able to manage the pressure. Therefore, Nepal must work seriously to manage migration to ensure its stability and development.

Nepal is also a home to around 20,000 Tibetan refugees. When Dalai Lama went in exile in Dharmasala in Himanchal Pradesh of India in 1959, large number of Tibetans followed him. The migration spree took place in large scale after China declared Tibet its autonomous region in 1949. Ever since, Tibetans have not only made Nepal the country of refuge but also made it a transit to move to India and abroad. 
Although Sino-Nepal border is closed, Tibetans cross the border illegally and seek asylum here. 

On the other hand there are Nepalis in Tibet and China involved in service, trade and businesses. Since they are small in number they do not pose big threat to China’s security but Tibetans coming to Nepal by crossing the border illegally and living in places of Kathmandu and Pokhara may pose a security threat to Nepal in the future. 

To consolidate Tibetan solidarity against China, Dalai Lama and his government in exile want to open an office in Kathmandu which Nepal has refused. Nepal is committed to ‘One China Policy’ and does not recognize Dalai Lama and his government officially. Perhaps this is why Dalai Lama recently suggested that Buddha was not born in Nepal. 

Mitigating threat

If we cannot manage Tibetan Diasporas, they could be a critical security threat for us. Nepal Army had to be mobilized to disarm Khampa rebellions—who posed security threat to Nepal and China—in the 70s. The ‘multi-national’ conceptualization of federalism by Madhesis and emergence of CK Raut may be a serious security threat for India and Nepal. This can cause instability in the region.  This is why Nepal must adopt policies to properly manage migration.

The author is security analyst and conflict scholar       


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