Last Updated: Thursday, 18 January 2018, 16:17 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2007 - China

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 11 July 2007
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2007 - China, 11 July 2007, available at: [accessed 19 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Refoulement/Physical Protection

China deported about 1,800 North Korean refugees during the year, and North Korea may have executed some of them. China increased security in the immediate border area, including starting construction on a fence in October. This pressure reduced the number of North Koreans who were able to slip across the border for supplies and return.

China did not launch major crackdowns outside the immediate border area, allowing some degree of stability for North Koreans living there. The Government still actively tried to arrest and deport North Koreans who tried to reach foreign embassies or schools, such as the February refoulement of an asylum seeker who entered a South Korean school compound in Beijing in November 2005. Citing security concerns, China also deported seven asylum seekers to Sri Lanka.

The deprivation that some fled was largely politically motivated, as North Korea withheld food and other goods from as much as a quarter of the population that it deemed hostile. North Korea also punished returned defectors with detention, forced labor, torture, and possibly execution if they had met with non-Chinese foreigners or Christians outside the country. As the North Korean government's motives for such severe punishment appeared to be political, the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants considered North Koreans in China to be prima facie refugees.

China allowed passage to South Korea via a third country only to those who gained public attention and the protection of a foreign embassy or consulate and only after five to six months of delay. The Government arrested and fined several persons aiding refugees and rewarded others who turned them in. China also denied the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) access to its northeastern border with North Korea. Reportedly, more than 200 North Korean security agents entered China posing as asylum seekers to gather information about networks in China and to repatriate other North Koreans.

About 300,000 Vietnamese refugees, mostly of Chinese ethnicity, remained in China, where the Government allowed them most of the rights of nationals, but granted them neither citizenship nor permanent status. These refugees entered China during and after the Sino-Vietnamese war of 1979. In Hong Kong, some 1,800 refugees of both Chinese and Vietnamese ethnicity remained.

China was party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and although its Constitution allowed it to grant asylum to those who sought it "for political reasons," it did not have a procedure for doing so. China permitted a small number of asylum seekers of other nationalities to remain, mostly in Beijing, while UNHCR determined their status and sought to resettle them. While awaiting resettlement, refugees received subsistence allowances from UNHCR but could not work. Hong Kong lacked a clear asylum policy and China did not consider its obligations under the Convention and Protocol to extend to it.

Chinese troops fired on a group of 77 Tibetans fleeing to Nepal in September, reportedly killing two and capturing 32.

Detention/Access to Courts

In addition to holding the seven Sri Lankans before deporting them, the Government harassed and detained North Korean asylum seekers prior to deporting them. Authorities raided safehouses that held refugees preparing to enter foreign consulates and compounds in Beijing and arrested others trying to enter the compounds. They detained and returned most of them, but some secured release by paying fines of $250 to $600. China's Public Security Bureau held all detained refugees and asylum seekers, and the detention centers were not subject to any independent monitoring. Refugees and asylum seekers could not challenge their detention before any court.

Some reports indicated that local governments near the North Korean border quietly issued identification cards to North Korean brides and children of Chinese men. Others had to pay bribes of $100 to $400 to obtain registration on the Chinese household registry for their children.

China issued identification cards to all Vietnamese refugees over the age of 16 but did not offer documentation to other refugees or asylum seekers. It generally recognized the certificates that UNHCR issued to mandate refugees, but some officials objected to the letters it granted to asylum seekers and did not always accept them.

North Koreans had to use forged identification cards to move within the country. These ranged in price from $10 for easily spotted forgeries, to more sophisticated cards costing $1,260 or more that included Chinese household registration numbers.

Freedom of Movement and Residence

Vietnamese refugees had freedom of movement within the country but North Koreans did not. Police outside the Beijing area were not familiar with the certificates UNHCR issued to refugees, and most did not travel outside the capital for fear of arrest by local police. A few North Koreans used networks of safehouses and friendly groups to make their way through China to Mongolia, Russia, or Southeast Asia. Some 2,000 arrived in South Korea after traveling through China during 2006.

China required some asylum seekers and refugees in Beijing, particularly those without proper identification, to stay in two designated hotels. Most, however, lived in private residences with UNHCR assistance. In some cases, Chinese authorities objected if they attempted to change residences.

Some village leaders quietly and informally encouraged the presence and registration of North Korean women because it helped ease a shortage of women caused by China's one-child policy and rural-to-urban migration. Authorities generally made more effort to crack down on North Koreans in urban centers than in rural areas.

A study conducted in 2004 found that 76 percent of North Koreans in China were living with Chinese citizens of Korean descent. At five percent each, missionaries' homes and mountain hideouts were the next most common places of residence.

Right to Earn a Livelihood

China allowed Vietnamese refugees to work freely. Other refugees needed a passport with a valid visa or residence permit to apply for a work permit. North Korean refugees, who generally left their country illegally, were not able to work.

The inability to work legally forced many North Korean women in China to depend on relationships with Chinese men to survive, which they formed either directly or through brokers or traffickers. Some entered knowing that traffickers would pair them with a Chinese husband but others did not. China neither recognized marriages between North Koreans and its citizens nor granted the children Chinese citizenship, rendering them stateless. Some North Korean women found work as domestic servants and a few North Korean men found work as day laborers. The 2004 study found that only 22 percent of North Koreans in China were working. Of those who did work, only 13 percent reported receiving a fair wage, and nine percent received none at all.

The 1996 Provisions on Administration of Employment of Foreigners in China prohibited citizens and businesses from employing foreigners, with no exception for refugees, but allowed special units from the Government to apply to the Ministry of Labor for work permits on behalf of foreigners. The fine for an employer sheltering illegal workers was $3,600. Permits were available only for special jobs for which no domestic workers were available and required certificates of qualification, labor contracts, and verifications of the demand in the labor market. Foreign workers also had to possess employment visas or a foreign resident certificate. Any foreigner wishing to change employers had to go through the process again. This law, however, did not apply in Hong Kong or Macao.

China's Constitution limited the rights to "own lawfully earned income, savings, houses and other lawful property" to citizens.

Public Relief and Education

Authorities arrested, detained, and deported foreign journalists, missionaries, and activists, as well as some Chinese citizens who assisted North Korean refugees. China issued arrest warrants for four Japanese NGO workers it believed to be aiding North Korean asylum seekers in March. It fined Chinese citizens $120 for sheltering North Korean refugees.

In August, China released a Korean-American missionary after jailing him for 15 months for attempting to transport people out of the country after Chinese police arrested him with nine North Korean refugees in 2005. In November, it released a South Korean aid worker it had jailed for nearly four years. Chinese police had arrested him with a group of North Korean refugees in January 2003.

Some who crossed the border received supplies from refugee support agencies before returning to their families in North Korea, but tighter security along the border greatly reduced this in 2006.

The children of Chinese men and North Korean women could attend school through middle school and beyond, if their family secured legal documentation. There were at least two NGOs actively aiding border crossers, each supporting around 40 of them. They either rented apartments in urban areas for them, or blended them in small groups into rural areas.

China granted Vietnamese refugees public assistance and education on par with nationals but denied these services to refugees and asylum seekers of other nationalities. UNHCR gave small stipends to refugees and asylum seekers in Beijing but did not have access to most North Koreans. Children of refugees had access to education but had to pay higher fees than nationals did. China collaborated with UNHCR on a credit program that provided loans to state-run farms and businesses to encourage hiring Vietnamese refugees.

UNHCR ceased aid to other asylum seekers in May whereupon the Government offered limited relief.

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