The End of the Temporary Protected Status for Nepal

By June 2019, thousands of refugees from the glacier-rich region of Nepal could lose their homes in the United States once their Temporary Protection Status (TPS) expires. They were granted TPS following the devastating earthquake in 2015. The expiration of Nepali’s TPS status comes after the Trump administration announced plans in April to end TPS for refugees from Haiti, Honduras and El Salvador, sparking concern among these displaced populations. The end of the TPS has also been discussed in the Nepali press.

TPS is only granted to citizens of countries that are deemed impossible for safe return as a result of circumstances such as ongoing armed conflict, natural disasters or other extraordinary or temporary situations. Currently, ten countries are part of the TPS list, including: Haiti, El Salvador, Syria, Nepal, Honduras, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, Nicaragua and South Sudan. As of 2017, around 320,000 people hold TPS, including 8,950 Nepalis. Despite holding TPS, an individual may still be detained by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on the basis of his or her immigration status. The TPS is also merely a temporary benefit that does not lead to lawful permanent resident status or immigration status.

Many Nepalis were granted TPS after the devastating 7.8-magnitude earthquake killed almost 9,000 people on April 25, 2015, It was the worst earthquake in Nepal since 1934 and triggered an avalanche on the glacier-covered Mount Everest. Following the avalanche, 250 people were reported missing, with Fox News coining it the “deadliest day on the mountain in history.” After the event, 3.5 million Nepalis were left homeless with the region, which faced around $10 billion in damages. Living near the high Himalayas and Mount Everest, the Sherpa ethnic group was badly hit. They also form a portion of the TPS population in the United States.

For many of these Nepalis, TPS has granted them a new lease on life. One such recipient of the TPS is Gyaljen Nuru Sherpa, who was granted TPS status by President Obama after the earthquake. The owner of several Nepali Tibetan fusion restaurants located in Westchester Country, just north of New York City, he mentioned in an interview with News12 that with the help of his TPS he had “raised $25,000 to help rebuild the homes of 16 relatives and a temple in his hometown following the earthquake.”

GlacierHub spoke with Alex de Sherbinin, from the Center for International Earth Science Information Network, about his work on outmigration from mountain areas. He points out that the Nepalis are not an isolated case.

“After the Haitian earthquake in 2010, there were some Haitians who received temporary protected status in the United States, but they were a small minority. There have been other cases of transboundary movements (for example, the Caribbean islands after the multiple hurricanes in 2017), but I would say these are the exception rather than the rule,” de Sherbinin told Glacierhub.

He added that displaced populations often lack any concrete plan for the time they plan to stay abroad. In fact, the majority return home eventually.“This is highly context-specific. It depends on the disaster, and on the region,” de Sherbinin said. “I think the disaster displaced figure things out as best they can, and are informed by social media and reports from their home towns about the ability to return home.”

Sites such as the Platform for Disaster Displacement are usually recommended for the migrants seeking information on their homelands.

Aftermath of the Nepal Earthquake (Source: Nigeria Circle News/ Twitter)
Aftermath of the Nepal Earthquake (Source: Nigeria Circle News/ Twitter).

“I hope this time the President will also understand and study a little bit about the conditions of Nepal. We hope for the best, Mr President will grant [TPS] again,” Gyaljen Nuru Sherpa added in his interview with News12. “I am very much worried about my people here and in Nepal. They are hardworking people, good people, but all they want is just to work and support their families.”

Pasang Sherpa, an anthropologist from the Sherpa community in Nepal, agrees that Nepalis depend a lot on agriculture or rely on daily wages and would have a hard time taking care of themselves following a disaster like the earthquake in 2015.

“The end of TPS program can mean that many Nepalis would lose their ability to support their families,” she said. “The opportunities they have gained over the past three years to build their lives will be suspended. This would mean that the effects of the earthquake continues to be felt three years later.”

Both De Sherbinin and Sherpa told GlacierHub that they are in favor of a TPS extension “on humanitarian grounds.” But as de Sherbinin points out, if things are stabilized, then perhaps they could return.

Mayor de Blasio recently sent an appeal to President Trump suggesting an extension of the TPS for Nepalis by 18 months. He is not the only politician to make a request based on a study of the region and its current status of recovery. To date, Nepalis continue to face difficult circumstances back home and many of the TPS immigrants may hope to stay in the United States longer to help those back home who still need assistance.

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