Page last updated at 15:14 GMT, Tuesday, 21 October 2008 16:14 UK

Somali refugees protest in Nepal

By Charles Haviland
BBC News, Kathmandu

Mohammed Said, 11, takes part in protest
Mohammed Said, centre, arrived in Nepal with his parents and brothers

Somali refugees living in Nepal have been demonstrating in the capital Kathmandu to gain official recognition by the government.

They say their lives are miserable because they are not allowed to work and are threatened with heavy fines if they try to leave the country.

Many of the Somalis say they were tricked into coming to Nepal by people traffickers in Mogadishu.

Some say they were told they were being flown to the Italian city of Naples.

The government says it is aware of the refugees and is discussing what to do about them.

Refugee convention

There are about 70 Somalis in Nepal, many of them children.

All have lost relatives in Somalia's civil war and one man here is disabled, wounded by a bullet.

The UN refugee agency in Nepal has recognised most of them as refugees, but the Nepal government has not, as it has not signed the UN refugee convention.

Instead it treats them as illegal immigrants, liable to pay huge fines for overstaying their visas if and when they move to other countries.

None of these people intended to come to Nepal. They paid money to self-styled agents in Mogadishu who deceived them about where they were going.

Protest in Kathmandu
The Somalis want the government in Nepal to hear their protest

About 15 say they were told they were flying to the Italian city of Naples by men deliberately using the name's similarity to the name Nepal.

Only after arriving did they realise their mistake.

Mohammed Said, 11, came to Nepal with his parents and seven brothers.

"We came to Nepal to save our lives," he said.

"We want the home minister to waive our overstaying fees. The school fees are a problem and my father doesn't have a job.

"We don't get to eat food twice a day."

There are other refugee or asylum-seeking communities in Nepal from countries including Iraq, Pakistan and Iran. Many of them have been trafficked in a similar way and some are imprisoned here.

Nepal's home ministry spokesman, Mod Raj Dotel, declined to give the BBC an interview.

But he said the government was "well aware of the Somali refugees" and was discussing what to do about them.

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