China hosted approximately 350,000 refugees at the end of 2000. The vast majority (293,000) were from Vietnam (mostly ethnic Chinese), while an estimated 50,000 were from North Korea. An unknown number – perhaps hundreds of thousands – of Kachin refugees from Burma were also in China.
China is a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention but has no domestic law on refugee protection. For this reason, the government allows the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to conduct refugee status determinations and generally permits applicants to remain in China while these determinations are being made.
Refugees from Vietnam
An estimated 293,000 ethnic Chinese refugees from Vietnam remained in China at year's end. Most arrived in 1979, at the time of the China-Vietnam border war, and China recognized all as refugees. Although most were regarded as "self-sufficient," UNHCR continued to provide limited assistance to about 30,000 refugees from Vietnam who were living on state farms. China did not grant citizenship to the Vietnamese refugees on mainland China in 2000.
However, in February, the Hong Kong government approved permanent resettlement for the approximately 1,000 Vietnamese refugees (both ethnic Chinese and ethnic Vietnamese) remaining in Hong Kong at year's end. After applying for Hong Kong ID cards, the Vietnamese refugees in Hong Kong will be eligible for full citizenship after seven years. By June, Hong Kong closed the last remaining camp for Vietnamese asylum seekers, Pillar Point Refugee Center.
Several thousand refugees fled from Laos to China during the 1980s. Most of the refugees repatriated under a 1991 agreement between the two countries. Approximately 800 Laotians remained in China at the end of 2000, all in Yunnan Province. UNHCR no longer considers them to be refugees.
Beginning in 1992, thousands of ethnic Kachin refugees from Burma sought refuge in China's Yunnan Province. They fled Burmese military abuses, including execution, rape, torture, destruction of villages and crops, and forced porterage. It was unclear how many Kachin or other Burmese refugees were in China in 2000, and UNHCR had no involvement with them.
An estimated 50,000 North Korean refugees were in China at year's end.
In previous years, USCR noted that "an unknown number" of North Koreans entered China. The number remained unknown in 2000; estimates varied from a few hundred, according to the Chinese government, to 300,000, according to one South Korean nongovernmental organization.
Although a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention, China has had a treaty with North Korea since 1986 saying it will return "defectors." China's Jilin Province also has a law that requires the return of North Koreans who illegally cross the border. However, for several years China informally tolerated the presence of North Koreans and even provided them assistance.
In January 1999, that changed. China began returning large numbers of North Koreans, claiming they were not refugees but "food migrants." According to observers, the practice accelerated in 2000, and at least 6,000 North Koreans were forcibly repatriated during the year, including 5,000 who were reportedly forced across the Tuen Bridge in China's Jilin Province in June 2000 alone.
In one notable case, Russian border guards apprehended seven North Koreans while crossing into Russia from China at the end of 1999. UNHCR determined that they were refugees while they were in Russia and informed both Russia and China of its decision. However, Russia sent the seven refugees back to China, and in January 2000, China forcibly repatriated all of them. UNHCR filed an official protest with the Chinese government.
Upon apprehending North Korean border crossers, Chinese authorities place them in jail before handing them over to North Korean border guards. According to an Amnesty International report, following an April riot in one such detention center in Jilin Province, China immediately deported 60 North Koreans who were involved.
Defecting from North Korea is a capital offense. North Korean officials reportedly beat many returnees, place them in labor camps or orphanages, or execute them at the border. Because the right to leave one's country is an internationally guaranteed human right, and because of the likelihood that returnees will be persecuted for having left North Korea without permission, USCR considers upwards of 50,000 North Koreans in China to be refugees.
Refugees from Tibet
The Chinese government continued its human rights abuses in Tibet, including crackdowns on religion and harsh treatment of political dissidents, according to the U.S. State Department's human rights report on China. This led 2,637 refugees from Tibet to flee into Nepal in 2000. UNHCR helped 2,319 to continue on to India, where a majority of Tibetan refugees live. Viewing its occupation as the "liberation" of Tibet, the Chinese government denies that Tibetans flee as refugees, and in 2000 continued its practice of resettling ethnic Chinese in Tibet.
Chinese Asylum Seekers from Fujian
In recent years, an unknown number of Chinese asylum seekers, mostly from coastal Fujian Province, have fled by boat to various countries, including Canada and the United States. Many of the asylum seekers have paid organized smugglers to transport them, often aboard unseaworthy boats. Although many receiving countries have generally viewed them as economic migrants, most of the asylum seekers have claimed persecution based on "coercive population control" (China's one-child policy) .
In 2000, U.S. interdiction of Chinese boat people virtually stopped. The U.S. Coast Guard reported interdicting only two Chinese boat migrants in 2000, in contrast to 1,351 in 1999.
During fiscal year 2000, the U.S. immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) granted asylum to 2,522 Chinese (cases, not individuals) and denied or referred to immigration judges 2,078, an approval rate of 54.8 percent.
U.S. immigration judges granted asylum to 2,463 Chinese cases and denied 3,051, an approval rate of 44.7 percent. Many were granted asylum on the basis of China's one-child policy.