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January 2001, Volume 8, Number 1

China: Migrants, Nepal

In China, young people are moving west to east, with interior provinces such as Sichuan, Hunan and Guangxi losing migrants to Guangdong, while further north, migrants are moving from Anhui and Zhejiang to Jiangsu to find jobs in Shanghai. Young people are leaving the northeastern province of Heilongjiang to move south to Liaoning and Beijing.

Mainland migrants continued to protest limited rights to join family members in Hong Kong, highlighting the fact that immigration from the mainland has been the trickiest issue to confront Hong Kong since the July 1997 handover from British rule. Hong Kong's highest court, the Court of Final Appeal, in January 1999 concluded that anyone with at least one Hong Kong parent had a constitutional right to live in Hong Kong.

The Chinese government overturned this ruling in June 1999, holding that residency rights should be granted to children of Hong Kong parents only if the parent was a Hong Kong permanent resident at the time the child was born. In 2000, Hong Kong courts upheld this ruling, setting off the protests, including one in August 2000 that killed two people when the Hong Kong immigration department was set on fire.

In December 2000, Hong Kong courts turned down an appeal from 5,200 mainland migrants who arrived before the restrictive decision of the Chinese government.

China is toughening penalties on convicted people smugglers, sentencing one smuggler to life in prison in November 2000 for arranging seven smuggling trips from Fujian between 1993 and 1997. Sentences normally range from three to seven years, with fines of $120 to $600, but Chinese law permits the death penalty for smuggling.

Nepal/Tibet. The Nepalese government says that 100 to 200 Tibetans cross the border illegally each month. The London-based Tibet Information Network says the number is 2,000 to 3,000 a month, and that half are Buddhist monks and nuns who have been expelled from monasteries for demonstrating against China. The Nepalese government has an agreement with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees whereby newly-arrived Tibetan refugees are escorted to immigration and are later allowed to transit to India.

US-China trade is expected to reach $74 billion in 2000, allowing China to surpass Japan as the country with the largest trade surplus with the US.

North Koreans. Amnesty International reports that North Korean refugees attempting to flee starvation in their country are being returned from China to North Korea. Under North Korean law, leaving the country without permission is a criminal act punishable by sentences ranging from seven years in a reform institution to execution.

Chinese officials deny that North Koreans are being forcibly repatriated. They say that those who enter China are illegal migrants looking for work. Relief workers estimate that up to 300,000 North Koreans have migrated to China during the past five years.

Taiwan. The Council of Labor Affairs permitted the recruitment of Filipino workers again in December 2000, after the Philippine government agreed to train Filipinos to discourage them from leaving their legal employment in Taiwan. There are about 112,00 Filipinos in Taiwan, 37 percent of all foreign workers.


"Nepal bowing to Chinese pressure to repatriate Tibetan refugees," Agence France Presse, December 21, 2000. Damien Mcelroy, "China returns Koreans to torture," The Scotsman, December 21, 2000. Rama Lakshmi, "Escaping Chinese, Tibetans join leader in India," Washington Post, December 15, 2000. Margaret Wong, "Hong Kong tells migrants if they lose last appeal, they must leave," Associated Press, December 15, 2000.