The Chinese foreign ministry has denied human rights advocates’ reports that China is forcing ethnic Kachin refugees to return to a war zone in Myanmar, saying that the people are going home of their own accord.
Responding to an article in The New York Times on Friday, the Chinese foreign ministry released a statement to the newspaper that said the people were returning because fighting between the government in Myanmar and the Kachin Independence Army was subsiding, contradicting reports by residents who say that the conflict is intensifying.
The ministry also said that many of the Kachin who had arrived recently on the China side of the border were not refugees.
“Some of them return to Myanmar for work during the day and reside in China temporarily during the night,” the ministry said.
“China has, in the spirit of humanitarianism, devoted a large amount of human resources, money and other materials to supplying humanitarian assistance to these Myanmar border inhabitants,” it said.
Thousands of Kachin have fled to Yunnan Province in China, which borders Myanmar’s Kachin state, after a 17-year ceasefire between their government and the Kachin Independence Army ended in June last year.
The Foreign Ministry’s statement came a day after the Times requested comment from the ministry about accusations that Chinese officials were forcing Kachin refugees back to Myanmar. The ministry had initially declined to comment.
A researcher for Human Rights Watch said on Thursday that 1,000 refugees had been forced to return to Myanmar and that 4,000 others were projected to return by the weekend.
Human Rights Watch released a report in June that estimated 7,000 to 10,000 refugees were living in China. The report said some Kachin had been forced back earlier by Chinese officials, but what was happening last week appeared to be a systematic and wide-scale forced repatriation.
Officials in Yunnan had been tolerating the refugee camps, though they had made many threats to evict the refugees.