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Tibetan refugees in Mustang have something to cheer about

Sundar Kumar Thakali

Sundar Kumar Thakali

Tibetan refugees in Mustang have something to cheer about

Despite the successful vaccination drive, the community is reeling under various adverse effects of the Covid-19 pandemic

Members of the Tibetan community in Mustang's Chhairo refugee camp are glad to receive Covid-19 vaccines even as they are denied various economic opportunities.

According to the UNHCR, Nepal is the first country in the Asia-Pacific to vaccinate refugees living in camps on par with Nepali citizens. Similarly, Mustang is the second district in the country, after Manang, to fully vaccinate its entire adult population.

“We are glad that the refugee community here has gotten vaccines even as there were shortages in other parts of the country," says Wangdi Gurung, the camp chieftain. The camp had been sealed off for over a month after an elderly man tested positive for Covid-19 a few months ago. Gurung says the community, which has been living in Mustang for over 50 years, now feels relieved even as there are reports about a more contagious Delta variant circulating in Nepal.

The camp located at Gharapjhong-1, Mustang, was established in 1972. In its early days, a total of 60 households with 300 members used to live there. These days, however, the number of households has gone down to 50 and the population to 224. Camp members sustain themselves on produce from government-provided land. Tourism is also an important contributor to their economy as their produce is not enough to feed them for the whole year.

Despite the successful vaccination drive, the community is reeling under various adverse effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Members of the community used to earn a good amount of money selling souvenirs in the tourist season via outlets in Marpha, Jomsom, Kagbeni and Muktinath. Some also run a community hotel. But with after the pandemic’s onset tourism has witnessed a slump.

“We don’t have a country, we abandoned everything to come here,” said the chieftain. “But we don't feel alone.” These people who belong to a nomadic tribe say they were not involved in any rebellion in Tibet and were not forced out of their homes. They decided to leave of their own volition.

Tibetan refugees in Nepal, including those living in Mustang, have not been issued identity cards. Due to this, they can neither open bank accounts nor go abroad. The educated youngsters of the community are unemployed as they don’t have the documents to apply for jobs.

The situation is unlikely to change anytime soon as the issue remains contentious in Nepal. However, members of the camp are still thankful that they are now vaccinated against a disease that has claimed millions of lives around the world.