China, a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and 1967 Protocol, hosted 286,700 Vietnamese, 7,000 Burmese Kachin, and 286 Laotian refugees in 1996. There were also some 60 non-Indochinese refugees and persons of concern to UNHCR in China, mainly from Somalia and Burundi. Some 2,000 North Koreans sought refuge in China, but the Chinese authorities considered them to have left North Korea because of food shortages there. During the year, 2,125 Tibetan refugees opposed to Chinese rule in Tibet fled through Nepal to India. Vietnamese Refugees A total of 286,700 Vietnamese refugees remained in China at the end of 1996, up slightly from 1995 due to new births. No Vietnamese repatriated from China during the year. The Chinese and Vietnamese governments continued to negotiate the possible repatriation of some 9,000 Vietnamese refugees who had indicated that they wished to return home, but by year's end had not reached any agreement. The Vietnamese continued to benefit from a settlement assistance program funded by the Chinese government and UNHCR. The Chinese government continued to pressure the British authorities in Hong Kong to repatriate all remaining Vietnamese boat people there before China reassumes control of Hong Kong on July 1, 1997. Laotian and Burmese Refugees Under a bilateral agreement between China and Laos signed in 1992, 235 Laotians repatriated voluntarily with UNHCR assistance in 1996. According to UNHCR's office in Beijing, only 286 Laotians remained in China, of whom 172 had applied for voluntary repatriation and were expected to return home in March 1997. The Chinese government has emphasized that all Laotian refugees who wish to remain in China are ensured indefinite asylum. Thousands of Burmese Kachin sought refuge in China's Yunnan province beginning in 1992. They fled abuses at the hands of the Burmese military, including execution, rape, torture, destruction of villages and crops, and forced porterage. The Yunnan authorities were assisting the estimated 7,000 remaining Kachin. Refugees Fleeing Tibet The Chinese government's continuing repression of Tibetan opposition to Chinese rule led more than 2,000 Tibetans to flee into Nepal in 1996. Of the 2,134 who succesfully reached Kathmandu, the Nepalese capital, UNHCR considered 2,125 to be of concern to the agency. It gave them financial assistance to travel by bus to Tibetan refugee settlements in India. Nepalese border guards continued to arrest Tibetan refugees seeking to enter Nepal, and in some instances forcibly returned them to the Chinese authorities. According to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch/Asia, human rights conditions in Tibet continued to deteriorate in 1996 as the Chinese authorities intensified their efforts to crack down on suspected Tibetan independence supporters and politically active religious leaders. During the year, 586 Chinese who made their way to Australia by boat applied for asylum there.

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