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China Deports Refugee Amid Olympics Security Sweep

The U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, says it is concerned about China's deportation of a young Pakistani refugee. The UNHCR says the deportation appears to be linked to alleged security concerns regarding the upcoming summer Olympics in Beijing. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from UNHCR headquarters in Geneva.

The U.N. refugee agency says Chinese authorities picked up the 17-year old boy, an unaccompanied refugee, on April 3 and deported him to Pakistan.

UNHCR spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis says China, which has signed the 1951 Refugee Convention, may have violated international law. She says the Convention prohibits the forcible deportation of refugees to their countries of origin.

"This is basically something that should not happen," she said. "This is why they are given refugee status - is to prevent people from being sent back to a country where they feel persecution or have credible grounds to fear persecution, to fear a risk to their life and limb. So, we are always deeply concerned when people are returned back to their countries of origin."

Pagonis says the news of this and other deportations has created considerable anxiety among the refugees in Beijing. She says the refugees have told UNHCR aid workers they feel very intimidated by these activities.

"It does seem to be that this is happening because of the security sweep ahead of the Olympics," she added. "I think that is fairly clear and it is deeply concerning that this is happening. And, we just reiterate that people who are refugees and asylum seekers have got very special protection needs and that these need to be taken into account in any security round-up situation."

Pagonis says the UNHCR is ready to discuss, what she calls, "acceptable arrangements" with Chinese authorities that are sensitive to these concerns. But, she insists, any arrangements that are made must take into account the protection needs of the refugees.

She says China has deported 15 Sri Lankan, Iraqi and Pakistani refugees to their home countries this year. She says the UNHCR takes care of about 180 refugees in Mainland China. Most come from southwest Asia, the Middle East and Africa.