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Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
Although the Government maintained restrictions on the freedom to change one's workplace or residence, the national household registration and identification card system continued to erode, and the ability of most citizens to move within the country to work and live continued to expand. However, the Government retained the ability to restrict freedom of movement through other mechanisms. Authorities heightened restrictions periodically during the year, particularly before politically sensitive anniversaries and to forestall demonstrations.
The Government's "hukou" system of national household registration underwent some liberalization during the year, as the country responded to economic demands for a more mobile labor force. Nonetheless, many Chinese could not officially change their residence or workplace within the country. Government and work unit permission were often required before moving from city to city. It was particularly difficult for peasants from rural areas to obtain household registration in economically more developed urban areas. This produced a "floating population" of between 100 and 150 million economic migrants who lacked official residence status in cities. Without official residence status, it was difficult or impossible to gain full access to social services, including education. Further, migrant workers were generally limited to types of work considered least desirable by local residents, and they had little recourse when subject to abuse by employers and officials. In some major cities, access to education for children of migrant workers continued to improve during the year, and some cities began to offer migrants some other social services free of charge. In September, Jiangsu Province became the first province to abolish the distinction between urban and rural residents in its household registration documents. In July, the city of Chengdu further liberalized its registration system, allowing up to half of the city's 1.5 million migrants to qualify for temporary residence permits. In June, the administrative detention system of custody and repatriation applied to migrants was abolished (see Section 1.d.). Authorities announced that custody and repatriation centers would be replaced by a network of aid shelters offering services to migrants, but it was unclear at year's end how these reforms would be implemented.
Prior to sensitive anniversaries, authorities in urban areas rounded up and detained some "undesirables," including the homeless, the unemployed, migrant workers, those without proper residence or work permits, petty criminals, prostitutes, and the mentally ill or disabled. Dissidents reported that the authorities restricted their freedom of movement during politically sensitive periods and while foreign dignitaries visited the country.
Under the "staying at prison employment" system applicable to recidivists incarcerated in reeducation-through-labor camps, authorities have denied certain persons permission to return to their homes after serving their sentences. Those persons sentenced to a total of more than 5 years in reeducation-through-labor camps on separate occasions also could lose their legal right to return to their home area. For those assigned to camps far from their residences, this practice constituted a form of internal exile. The number of prisoners subject to this restriction was unknown. Authorities reportedly forced other recently released prisoners to accept jobs in state enterprises where they could be closely monitored. Other released or paroled prisoners returned home but were not permitted freedom of movement. Former senior leaders Zhao Ziyang and Bao Tong remained under house arrest in Beijing, and security around them routinely was tightened during sensitive periods.
The Government permitted legal emigration and foreign travel for most citizens. Passports were increasingly easy to obtain in most places, although those whom the Government deemed to be threats, including religious leaders, political dissidents, and some ethnic minority members continued to have difficulty obtaining passports (see Tibet Addendum). During the year, the Government expanded from 25 to 100 the number of cities in which residents can apply for a passport. Many local governments abolished regulations requiring residents to obtain written permission from police and employers before applying for a passport. The Government continued to use political attitudes as criteria for selecting persons for government-sponsored study abroad; however, the Government did not control privately sponsored students, who constituted the majority of citizens studying abroad. Business travelers who wished to go abroad could obtain passports relatively easily.
There were reports that some academics faced travel restrictions around the year's sensitive anniversaries, particularly the June 4 anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, and there were instances in which the authorities refused to issue passports or visas on apparent political grounds. Members of the underground Catholic Church, particularly clergy wishing to further their studies abroad, found it difficult to obtain passports and other necessary travel documents. Some Falun Gong members also reportedly had difficulty in obtaining passports during the year. In May 2001, the Government prevented Dr. Gao Yaojie, who had exposed the transmission of HIV through blood collection in villages in Henan Province, from traveling abroad to receive an award. Similarly, visas to enter the country also were denied. For example, some foreign academics who had been critical of the country continued to be denied visas.
Although a signatory of the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, the country has no law or regulations that authorize the authorities to grant refugee status. The Government cooperated with the UNHCR when dealing with the resettlement of ethnic Han Chinese or ethnic minorities from Vietnam and Laos resident in the country. Since the late 1980s, the Government has adopted a de facto policy of tolerance toward the small number of persons, fewer than 100 annually, from other nations who registered with the Beijing office of the UNHCR as asylum seekers. The Government permitted these persons to remain in the country while the UNHCR made determinations as to their status and, if the UNHCR determined that they were bona fide refugees, while they awaited resettlement in third countries. However, the Government continued to deny the UNHCR permission to operate along its northeastern border with North Korea, arguing that North Koreans who crossed the border were illegal economic migrants, not refugees.
During the year, several thousand North Koreans were reportedly seized, detained, and forcibly returned to their homeland, where many faced persecution. In recent years, crackdowns on prostitution and forced marriages have resulted in increased deportations of North Korean women. During the year, the Government did permit approximately 300 North Koreans to travel to Seoul after they had entered diplomatic compounds or international schools in China, and hundreds more arrived in South Korea via third countries such as Mongolia, Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia after transiting through China. There were numerous credible reports of harassment, detention, and abuse of North Koreans in the country, including the July 27 detention of four persons at the Beijing train station and the August 7 detention of eight persons in Shanghai who allegedly attempted to enter the Japanese school. The Government also arrested and detained foreign journalists, missionaries and activists, as well as some Chinese citizens, for providing food, shelter, transportation, and other assistance to North Koreans. For example, South Korean photojournalist Seok Jae Hyun was imprisoned in January while photographing North Korean refugees trying to board boats headed for South Korea and Japan (see Section 2.a.). In August, two South Korean journalists were detained and later expelled for allegedly assisting North Koreans attempting to enter an international school in order to transit to South Korea. In December, an employee of a Japanese NGO was detained for trying to assist North Koreans in China.
While UNHCR reported that more than 2,000 Tibetans each year continued to cross into Nepal, the Government continued to try to prevent many Tibetans from leaving. In a case that raised serious international concerns, on May 31, the Government pressured Nepalese authorities to repatriate forcibly 18 Tibetans, including several minors. The 18 were denied access to the UNHCR, forced onto a bus and taken back across the border to China, where they were held, first at a border post and later at a prison in Shigatse. According to NGO reports, the detainees were tortured, and most also were pressured for bribes. At year's end, NGOs could not confirm that all 18 individuals had been released (see Tibet Addendum).
In October, the Government executed Uighur Shaheer Ali after he and another Uighur were forcibly returned to China in 2002 from Nepal, where they had been granted refugee status by UNHCR (see Section 5).
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