Nepalis on warpath as US dream crashes
Apr 13, 2007 - 12:45:59 PM

Kathmandu, April 13 - Like thousands of their countrymen, they wanted to migrate to the Big Apple, regarding it as the land of milk and honey where opportunity beckoned at every turn. But when their dream came crashing after the US denied them a visa, a group of Nepalis began a fast unto death here.

The protesters, who are fasting in front of the American Embassy, have formed the American Diversity Visa Victims' Association in a bid to pressure the US government into refunding the money they spent on trying to immigrate.

Enraged at their visa application fee of $755 per person, a fortune in Nepal that is one of the poorest countries in the world, going waste, aspirants began demonstrations in front of the US embassy from October to demand a refund. When the protest yielded no result, seven members of the association Tuesday began a fast unto death.

The stir finally prompted a response from the US officials, with the ambassador asking the protesters to call off their hunger strike.

'No visa is worth damaging your health,' ambassador James Francis Moraiarty said. 'I urge these individuals to think first about their families, lives, and future in Nepal, and give up this futile protest.'

The embassy says the visa application fee is non-refundable and set by law. Embassies do not have the authority to waive, change or refund the fee.

It also says representatives of the association threatened and tried to extort money from two Nepali doctors who provide medical clearance services to successful applicants.

There have been tales of families selling houses and land to try to go to the US, only to be turned down during the final interview.

Driven by the turmoil in the country and the shrinking economy, every year tens of thousands of Nepalis try to change their fortune by registering for the annual US Diversity Immigrant Visa Programme - conducted by the US government to ensure a broader ethnic mix of immigrants to the US.

In 2006, more than 300,000 Nepalis registered for the computer-generated random lottery drawing that chooses the first batch, who are then interviewed by a panel to determine the final list of successful immigrants.

Though tens of thousands apply from Nepal each year, since 2000 only about 7,500 Nepalis have been allowed entry to the US on DV.

The protest comes even as members of Nepal's civil society expressed outrage over the refusal of a visit visa to a leading Nepali media rights activist.

Bishnu Nishthuri, president of the Federation of Nepalese Journalists that played a prominent role in the pro-democracy protests after King Gyanendra seized absolute power, was denied a visa to attend a programme in North America on the state of Nepal's media.

Prominent Nepali playwright, columnist and academic Abhi Subedi was also rejected a visa last year, triggering outrage in Nepal.

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