China urged to stop sending Myanmar refugees back

China forced at least 1,000 ethnic Kachin refugees to return to a combat zone in northern Myanmar this past week and has plans to deport 4,000 more soon, a rights group said Friday.

Human Rights Watch on Friday urged the Chinese government to stop repatriating the refugees to Myanmar and instead provide temporary protection for them in Yunnan province, which lies along Myanmar's northern border.

An official at the Yunnan provincial Communist Party committee referred queries to the committee's propaganda office, where calls rang unanswered.

The Kachin minority in northern Myanmar has been fighting government forces since last June, when authorities sought to shut down a Kachin militia base near a hydropower dam construction project. The hostilities ended a 17-year cease-fire and displaced about 75,000 people.

The refugees who were deported this week had been living in makeshift camps in China since June 2011, Human Rights Watch said.

Last month, authorities visited the refugees and told them that it was no longer possible for them to stay in China, the group said, citing an unidentified Kachin aid worker who was in direct contact with provincial authorities.

The group said that while China has provided sanctuary to 7,000-10,000 Kachin refugees in Yunnan, the government has not given them protection or aid, and Chinese authorities have not allowed United Nations and humanitarian groups to visit the refugees.