The topic of World Refugee Day has unleashed thousands of comments on Chinese social media this week after the United Nations Refugee Agency raised awareness for refugees on Sina Weibo. Earlier this month, UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi visited Beijing and stated that China can play key role in solving refugee crises.
China became a member of the International Organization for Migration in June of 2016.
Chinese celebrity Yao Chen participated in a World Refugee Day event on Tuesday in Beijing, where the film Welcome to Refugeestan was screened. The popular actress is the Goodwill Ambassador of the UN Refugee Agency.
With over 80 million fans on Weibo, Yao Chen is one of the most influential celebrities on Weibo. She is the first-ever Chinese UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador and has been a strong voice for refugees over the last seven years.
“China will not take in refugees! “
On Tuesday, the UN Refugee Agency posted on Weibo:
“Because June 20 is #World Refugee Day#, the UNHCR has hosted a public welfare event in Beijing to pay tribute to the world’s 65.6 million people who are displaced and homeless, and to pay tribute to all those who support and care for the refugees. @NicholasRosellini @United Nations Development Program @YaoChen #westandtogetherwithrefugees#.“
The post soon attracted over 28,000 shares and 20,000 comments – many were negative about China’s role in solving the refugee crisis. The topic ‘Should China accept refugees?’ (中国要不要接收难民) eventually became one the week’s biggest topics on social media.
“Let the USA and Europe take in refugees, they started this war to begin with,” many said: “China will not take in refugees! We can give some money, but don’t come here!”
“Why should we pay our respects to people simply because they are refugees?”, one popular comment said: “How do we know if they are all virtuous people? Did they become terrific people because they became refugees? What kind of logic is this? What is the UNHRC teaching us?”
Hosting refugees is currently not a prominent issue on China’s current state agenda, and there is no national legislation for refugees in China. According to UN Refugee data, there were 317,923 “persons of concern” (refugees, asylum-seekers, stateless persons and others) in China in 2016 – a figure that is very small compared to the country’s native population.
Of this number 317,098 people are refugees from Vietnam – mostly ethnically Chinese. As for Syria, the data shows that China in 2016 had a mere 20 refugees from Syria and 35 Syrian asylum seekers. From Afghanistan, there were 20 asylum seekers. There were 102 refugees from Somalia and 5 from Iraq.
THREE VIEWS ON CHINA TAKING IN REFUGEES
“We didn’t have 30 years of One-Child Policy in order to let in other people now.”
The overall negative view on social media about China accepting refugees generally has three different perspectives.
Firstly, people on Weibo refer to the situation in Europe and say that taking in refugees will negatively impact a country’s society. They want to protect a stable Chinese society.
“We would not be so hateful [about refugees] if they were more well-behaved and had better morals. What became of Germany because of the refugees? They have led in wolves in sheep’s clothes. It’s not easy to create a stable Chinese society and we must treasure and protect it,” one netizen says.
They also say that China already has enough domestic issues with migrants and poverty.
Second, many refer to China’s One-Child Policy, that lasted from the late 1970s to 2015. The policy was implemented to reduce the growth rate of China’s population. If China would now take in large numbers of refugees, many say, then why could Chinese families not have more than one child for over three decades?
As one person writes: “China shouldn’t just let in refugees. We didn’t have 30 years of family planning [one-child policy] in order to let in other people now.”
A third perspective behind the negative comments on refugees coming to China is people’s anti-Islam stance.
“Many netizens have this logic,” one US-based Weibo female netizen writes: “Refugee = Middle Eastern refugee = Islam = Terrorism.”
“We’re not really against taking in refugees,” one man from Shanghai writes: “We’re against taking in islamic refugees.”
MOST WELCOMING TO REFUGEES?
“Your core mission should be to tell the world how China maintains peace.”
Many netizens turned their negative comments against Yao Chen. “Yao Chen should take in some refugee children herself and raise them together with her daughter. Does she dare?”, some said. Many blamed Yao Chen for standing up for international refugees while China has “enough issues” to deal with already.
“Yao Chen, as the Chinese UNHCR goodwill ambassador, your core mission should be to tell the world how China maintains peace, and how it contributes to taking in neighboring refugees,” others say.
One year ago, the issue of China taking in refugees also became a trending topic when Amnesty International published a global survey that ranked Chinese, German and British people as “most welcoming to refugees” among the 27 countries surveyed. Russia ranked as ‘least welcoming’ in the so-called ‘refugees welcome index.’
The survey triggered controversy on Weibo, where many people questioned how representative it was (also see our 2016 video about this topic).
The wave of criticism on Weibo shows that most netizens do not share the ‘refugees welcome’ sentiments portrayed in Amnesty’s survey.
“China shouldn’t receive ‘green’ [Muslim] refugees, we must refuse. We haven’t even sorted out our own problems with Chinese Muslims. I must ask: Why do Syrian and other war refugees do not go to Saudi Arabia and their other rich neighbours? That’s simply the best place for them to adapt seamlessly. But instead they do everything in their power to go to Europe, not Eastern Europe, but to Western Europe where the welfare and economy is good,” one netizen named Alex writes.
An editorial by Global Times editor Hu Xijin (胡锡进) of June 22 questions what all the fuss is about on Weibo: “Refugees from the Middle East don’t even want to come to China. Why should we worry about whether or not China should take in refugees?”
Although it is unlikely that China will take in large numbers of refugees from Africa or the Middle East in the near future, the government does play an active role in refugee aid by donating money to refugee camps and humanitarian assistance.
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