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Urban refugees in China

Among one of the two regions in the world where “urban (refugee) caseloads are currently of major concern” (UNHCR's Policy and Practice Regarding Urban Refugees 1995), the People’s Republic of China is an ever more influential actor in the Asian region and beyond. Based on the findings of direct observation and in-dept interviews with Pakistani refugees awaiting resettlement, the process of integration was analyzed at the initial phase by observing urban Pakistani refugees in Langfang and by observing refugees from Pakistan in Yanjiao which altogether form the largest urban refugee group residing on the outskirts of Beijing, one of the most booming and fast developing cities in the world.

According to researchers, refugees become integrated when they are able to sustain livelihoods, have access to education, health, and residence, and are socially networked with the host community. Moreover, local integration will only work if it is acceptable to host governments, the local community and to refugee populations.

Urban refugees in both Yanjiao and Langfang are not entitled to the economic guarantees and, although they are relatively conversant in the language and culture of the Chinese society, they cannot, unless they obtain legal residency or resettle in a third country which has implemented national refugee legislation, expect any progress in their situation. The Pakistani refugees at the two different stages of integration encounter similar legal constraints due to China’s failure to avail sustainable integrative solutions. However, even without access to the labor market, the refugees in Yanjiao and Langfang are provided with sufficient funds from the People’s Republic of China which has exceeded the minimum financial assistance made available to refugees in other developing countries.

In Yanjiao and Langfang has revealed that Pakistani refugee communities were protected. Furthermore, even if, to date, the UNHCR has been unable to convince the host government of the possibility of local integration of urban refugees temporarily settled and in transition in the asylum country, are all considered for resettlement. Among the families interviewed one of them, Z’s family, which consists of five members, has been accepted for resettlement in Canada and is expected to leave China in July 2011.

In a nutshell, unless the China decide to legalize the status of urban refugees or provide a sustainable framework to remove restrictive policies, refugees, at an initial stage and at a later period of integration, will still remain marginalized, strictly “50-50 integrated”, in hallmark principles in their first country of origin.

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