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.

Upcoming Conference Examines Trans-Asian Indigeneity

Marking the ten-year anniversary of the United Nations General Assembly adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), this year’s Asian Studies Summer Institute at the Pennsylvania State University will focus on the theme of “Trans-Asian Indigeneity.” The Institute, June 18-24, 2017, will be directed by Neal Keating, Pasang Yangjee Sherpa and Charlotte Eubanks.

Exterior of the Old Botany Building at Penn State University (Source: George Chriss/Creative Commons).
Exterior of the Old Botany Building at Penn State University (Source: George Chriss/Creative Commons).

For the Institute, we invite applications from the humanities, arts and sciences —anthropology, environmental studies, history, political ecology, geography, art and literature— that examine “Indigeneity” as a protean concept and lived reality in Asia, Asian America, and Asian diasporic communities across the globe. Applicants must have completed their PhDs between August 2012 and 2017, or be advanced graduate students who are completing their dissertations. Institute participants spend a week reading and thinking about the annual theme, as well as significant time workshopping their work in progress. Particularly strong work may be considered for publication in the “Indigeneity” special issue of Verge: Studies in Global Asias.

We are especially interested in attending to the concept’s travels between Asian and western settler societies, or those following the movement’s historical concurrence with the rise of neoliberal political economy and the onset of massive anthropogenic environmental change. We explore the possibilities of strengthening collective indigenous identities that are not antithetical to state sovereignty and citizenry, but nonetheless challenge the status quo of nation-states and finance capital to make political space for “other” peoples with collective human rights that are now recognized in international law. We are also interested in the current historical, political and ecological moment, and the growing realization of planetary limits to unchecked economic growth. New forms of human organization are becoming imaginable, and Indigeneity may be among the most sustainable of these. We encourage applications that connect discourses of ‘Asian’ indigeneities with the larger planetary flows of capital and people.

Picture of Bhote Khampas in Bajura, Nepal celebrating Lhosar 2016 (Source: Pasang Sherpa)
Picture of Bhote Khampas in Bajura, Nepal celebrating Lhosar 2016 (Source: Pasang Sherpa).

Participants whose work draws on any region in Asia are welcome. For the readers of GlacierHub, we note that the indigenous peoples of the high mountain regions of Asia represent a variety of forms of engagement with indigeneity. Lying along the frontiers of the former Russian, British and Chinese empires, they negotiated with rulers in distant capitals who applied different systems of classification to them, and who often ran borders through the lands of specific peoples. At this time, some indigenous peoples began diasporas that have continued to the present. Their encounters with independent nations after the end of these empires have also been complex and marked by a growing number of new diasporas. We note as well that the lower mountain ranges of southeast Asia and the easternmost Himalayas have been characterized as a large zone of peoples who resist state rule altogether, as James C. Scott argued in his 2009 The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia.

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Ordo Sakhna ensemble performing for the Kyrgyz community in Brooklyn, NY in 2010. (Source: Eurasianet.org)

This Institute provides a venue to reflect on how far the indigenous communities on the frontlines of climate change in Asia have come in 2017, as we also mark a decade since the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). How are indigenous mountain peoples like the Sherpas dealing with threats from glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs)? How are Bhote Khampas adapting to the changes in the availability of forest herbs?

Penn State will provide a graduated travel stipend ($400 from the East Coast, $600 from the Midwest, $800 from the West Coast; $1000 from Europe; $1350 from Asia). We will also cover the costs of housing and most meals for the week of the Institute. To apply, please send the following documents in a single PDF file to verge@psu.edu by March 15, 2017.

  • A cover letter (up to 2pp) outlining your current career/research stage, and articulating a connection to the Institute theme.
  • A sample of your current work (10-20 pp). This need not be the piece you plan to workshop over the summer. It should nonetheless give the review committee some sense of your current and future work.
  • A current c.v.
  • Advanced graduate students must also include a letter from the dissertation adviser on academic progress and status. (This may be sent under separate cover, rather than as a part of the single PDF file for items 1-3.)

Decisions will be made by the first week of April 2017. Other inquiries regarding the Summer Institute may be directed to Charlotte Eubanks (cde13@psu.edu).