Oped

Don’t call us names

  • The Nepali people deserve answers from the government and respect from others
- LEKHANATH PANDEY

Jan 30, 2018-

The world was enraged after United States president Donald Trump insulted some impoverished nations by calling them ‘shithole’ countries whose citizens were living in the US with Temporary Protected Status (TPS). The US media and the intelligentsia criticised his statement as being ‘anti-American’ while South Africa and Botswana denounced his comments as being racist. The Economist wrote a report questioning whether the US president was mentally sound or in the early stage of dementia. Trump has refuted all allegations against him and the White House has stated that the US leader is in the best of health. As an aid-dependent country, Nepal seems to be clueless about how to respond to such humiliation. President Trump is not a big fan of immigration. Since the very outset of his election campaign, he was quite vocal against the liberal immigration policies of his predecessors, especially those of Barack Obama. He campaigned for erecting a wall all along the US-Mexico border, and sending millions of undocumented immigrants back home, mainly those who came from Islamic countries.

The US was the second country, after the United Kingdom, to establish diplomatic ties with Nepal. The two countries were coming to the end of a year-long celebration commemorating the 70th year of diplomatic relations a week before Trump’s ‘shithole’ remarks. Foreign Ministry officials claimed that Nepal was not a prime target of Trump’s invective, and the US Embassy did not answer questions about this subject. Nevertheless, there are three possible reasons that could have provoked the notion that Trump meant to discomfit us too.

Nepal fits the mould

The first and obvious reason is Nepal’s inclusion in the TPS list following lobbying by the Nepali community and embassy after the 2015 earthquakes. The US Homeland Security Department designates countries in the TPS list where safe return of their citizens is not possible due to ongoing armed conflict, natural calamities or other extraordinary circumstances. El Salvador, Honduras, Haiti, Nepal, Syria, Nicaragua, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia and South Sudan are in the TPS list. As many as 8,950 Nepalis are residing in the US with a TPS visa, making them the fourth highest population among the 10 TPS countries, according to the US Embassy in Kathmandu.

Of course, the last two decades were a bad time for Nepal because of an armed conflict which was followed by a tumultuous transition, two earthquakes and an Indian economic blockade. Despite all these adverse situations, Nepal was never inhospitable towards its own citizens. Relative peace was restored in 2006 when the Maoists formally shunned violence and joined mainstream politics. Though the quakes took the lives of more than 9,000 people and shattered hundreds of thousands of homes and public infrastructure, the circumstances were never hostile to anyone in Nepal.

The second reason is the swelling Nepali community in the US. Hundreds of Nepalis enter the US in pursuit of quality education, better standard of living and job opportunities. Their numbers were further increased by the Diversity Visa lottery programme. The US Embassy issued 3,451 diversity visas to Nepalis between October 2016 and September 2017, the second highest number in the world. Furthermore, over 90,000 Nepali-speaking Bhutanese refugees have been resettled in the US who may be mistaken for Nepalis.

As journalist Becky Little has written, the DV programme was not intended to promote cultural and racial diversity in the US when Congress introduced it in 1986. It was primarily designed to attract whites, Irish and Europeans to the US. Later, it was opened to non-white Asians, Africans and Latinos too. With the immigrant population increasing and starting to change US demographics and election outcomes, many conservative white Americans are anxious about their supremacy.

The third reason that could have incited Trump’s remark may be Nepal’s recent vote in favour of a UN resolution rejecting his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Before the UN vote on December 22, Trump had publicly warned about taking strong measures, including withholding US aid, against countries supporting the resolution. All TPS countries except Honduras voted for the UN resolution. Nepal was among the 128 countries that supported it. Instead of announcing a swift aid cut, his frustration could have been reflected in vulgar words.

Hard silence

Since 1951, Nepal has received more than $1 billion in aid from the US. The US has given Nepal another $500 million through the Millenium Challenge Corporation grant for the next five years to finance infrastructure building and socio-economic development. Despite all that aid, Nepal refused to heed the US leader’s warning. This was widely interpreted as ‘self-standing’ at global forums. Where has such a stand gone now when the country has been humiliated? The whole of Nepali society—the government, political parties, intelligentsia, media and civil society—has kept mum on this issue as if nothing has happened. There are two factors that have discouraged all of them from speaking up. One, we depend on aid so we hesitate to speak our mind. Two, the Nepali mission helped to get TPS visas for some self-oriented Nepalis who wanted to extend their US stay by saying that it was not safe to return to Nepal.

The prevailing silence and absolute indifference towards the disrespect will not help anyone except spread negative sentiments and rumours. The Foreign Ministry could at least express its reservation, seek clarification from the US Embassy and inquire of its own mission in the US and have a clear understanding of the matter. Regrettably, the Nepali mission has reportedly been lobbying hard to further extend the TPS term for Nepalis, despite the Trump’s remarks. This doesn’t promote the country’s image, but only helps to tarnish it. We deserve answers from the government and respect from others.

Pandey is an assistant professor at Tribhuvan University and writes on geopolitics and international relations

Published: 30-01-2018 08:16

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