Refugee Repatriation Confirmed

Chinese authorities send at least 1,000 back over the border into Burma.
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A June 2012 dated photo of a Kachin refugee who gave birth in China’s Yunnan Province, after being forced back to Burma.
A June 2012 dated photo of a Kachin refugee who gave birth in China’s Yunnan Province, after being forced back to Burma.
Photo courtesy of Human Rights Watch

A senior official in northern Burma's ethnic Kachin government confirmed on Tuesday reports that Chinese authorities have sent refugees fleeing armed ethnic conflict back over the border from the southwestern province of Yunnan.

A deputy health minister in the Kachin government told RFA's Mandarin service that officials in Yunnan's Dehong prefecture had already requested that officials on the Burmese border assist them in transporting the refugees back home.

"Yes, that's correct," the official said, when asked to confirm the reports. "There were more than 1,000 of them [who were sent home]."

"They wanted us to hurry up and move the refugees [back home]," said the official, who gave only his surname, Pai. "They discussed this issue with our government."

"We explained things clearly to the refugees, but there were some who still didn't want to leave."

He said Chinese officials from the Ruili municipal government in Dehong had said they saw no reason for the refugees to remain.

"The Chinese came to our government and said that they should all go back now, because there was no longer any sound of gunfire, and that the fighting had stopped," Pai said. "They were adamant that [our people] should leave."

Calls to the Ruili municipal government went unanswered during office hours on Tuesday.

Difficult conditions

Pai said the majority of the refugees in the border area have now returned to the Burmese side, without giving specific figures. Rights groups estimate that 7,000-10,000 people fled to Yunnan, but aid groups say they lack definitive data in the absence of official involvement in the camps.

"Most of them, after they arrived back in Burma, went to areas that are under our control," he said. "The conditions there are very difficult, as everything is very scarce."

"It's not easy for them to find somewhere to live or food to eat," he added.

On Friday, the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that China had forcibly returned at least 1,000 ethnic Kachin refugees to northern Burma after they fled from armed conflict, abuses, and lack of basic humanitarian supplies.

Beijing denied the allegations via its official media.

The Kachin refugees were expelled from around 12 makeshift camps in Yunnan, where they had been living since June 2011.

Thousands more were at risk of immediate forced repatriation across the border from Yunnan, where they are currently being looked after by nongovernment and religious aid groups, HRW said in a statement.

The group called on the Chinese government to "urgently change course" and to honor its obligations to refugees under international law.

'Leave immediately'

The U.S.-based Christian group ChinaAid quoted Kachin refugees in a makeshift camp at Nongdao as saying that they had been sent back across the border on Aug. 21.

"They started the repatriation operation on Aug. 21, and told us to leave immediately," one woman told ChinaAid. "Everyone was begging the people who were making us leave China, but they threatened us."

"They said that if we didn't leave, they would send us back into Burmese government-held territory."

The refugees were transported across the border in more than 20 buses provided by the local government, and their temporary homes were demolished, ChinaAid said.

Aid worker Ma Er, who is coordinating relief work at some of the camps on behalf of Christian groups, said Chinese officials had been stepping up efforts to get the Kachin to leave in recent weeks at camps he had visited.

"They really couldn't leave, because their homes are now under the control of Burmese government troops," Ma said. "When those troops...enter a village they take everything of value to the people there, like chickens, pigs; they take it all away."

"This means that the local people have no means to exist there," he said. "I also heard that there was a woman who was raped."

Drug accusations

Ma said the majority of Kachin refugees in China were unwilling to leave, but that the local authorities had recently begun accusing them of smuggling drugs and ordered them to return over the border.

"The police came several times [to one of the camps] and said that there was drug smuggling and dealing going on, but when they searched the place they found nothing," he said.

Ma said there had been tens of thousands of Kachin refugees in and around Ruili at the height of the fighting. It was unclear how many remained on the Chinese side, however.

An official who answered the phone at Dehong's Yanjiang county government declined to comment.

"You probably have a different understanding of this matter than we do, so I can't really answer your questions," the official said.

HRW said that an estimated 75,000 people have been displaced by the fighting, while both sides have been implicated in the use of land mines and child soldiers, in violation of international law.

And while the Chinese government had provided sanctuary to an estimated 7,000 to 10,000 Kachin who fled across the border to Yunnan, the authorities failed to provide them with any aid.

"The Chinese government has denied United Nations and international humanitarian agencies much-needed access to these refugees," the group said.

Renewed conflict

A 17-year cease-fire agreement ended in June 2011, when Burmese forces moved in to close a Kachin Independence Army (KIA) militia camp, rekindling the conflict.

The conflict has intensified in recent months, with stepped-up attacks from both sides.

The KIA killed four government officials in April and blasted multiple rail lines, and government forces reportedly shelled several KIA bases in a recent helicopter attack.

China's foreign ministry has refused to define the Kachin people in Yunnan as refugees.

The official media has admitted, however, that 4,000 people from Kachin are currently in Yunnan, because they "fled conflict."

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.





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