Indochinese refugees may get Chinese citizenship

BEIJING Fri Jun 1, 2007 12:40am EDT

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BEIJING (Reuters) - A group of about 260,000 Indochinese refugees who have been living in China for quarter of a century may finally get full Chinese citizenship, the United Nations said on Friday.

The mainly ethnic Chinese refugees fled Vietnam by land and boat in the late 1970s and early 1980s following the end of the civil war and subsequent border war with China after Hanoi's invasion of Beijing-backed Cambodia.

A small minority of the refugees came from Laos and Cambodia.

The government is now drafting a national refugee law, with help from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which could formalize their status.

"We are providing some technical advice and also giving some training on international law to help them to ensure the national law is in compliance with international refugee legislation," said Song Jing, a spokeswoman for the UNHCR, in Beijing.

"We hope they will finally be naturalized, as that would be the best solution for their situation, as they have been settled in China for so long."

The official China Daily said it was still unclear when the legislation would be passed to the State Council, or cabinet, for approval.

The refugees have settled in southern China, concentrated in the provinces of Guangdong, Yunnan, Hainan, Fujian, Jiangxi and Guangxi.

They already have almost all the same civil rights as Chinese citizens, including the right to employment, health care and pensions. Many have Chinese identity cards.

According to the UNHCR, very few wish to go back to Vietnam, hence their desire for full naturalization.

Relations between the two officially Communist neighbors have warmed considerably in recent years, having been poisoned by long-term historical distrust, China's support for Cambodia's murderous Khmer Rouge regime and the 1979 border war.

China supported the Vietnamese Communists in their decades-long war against South Vietnam and its U.S. sponsors.

But Vietnam has traditionally been wary of its larger Asian neighbor and Beijing and Hanoi normalized relations only in 1991.

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