China’s ‘Christmas Town’ opens doors to Middle East migrants

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A migrant hangs on wall a traditional Chinese decoration at his new home in China. [Photo: CFP]

A migrant hangs on wall a traditional Chinese decoration at his new home in China. [Photo: CFP]

In 2016, over 4,000 people from war-torn countries including Iraq, Yemen, Syria, and Afghanistan were issued temporary residence permits in Yiwu, the “world’s largest small commodity wholesale market”, according to Reuters.

As Europe and the US crack down on migrants from the Middle East and Africa, China is welcoming those who suffered war-time displacement in their own countries.

Iraqis were the biggest group to apply for residence permits in China in 2016, with other applications from Yemen, India, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt, Iran, Mali, and South Korea.

Foreign migrants stroll along the street in China. [Photo: CFP]

Foreign migrants stroll along the street in China. [Photo: CFP]

Since the early 2000s, the rapid rise of Yiwu as a business center has attracted migrants wanting to rebuild their lives here.

The eastern Chinese city south of Shanghai, with 1.2 million people, is nicknamed “Christmas Town” for producing 60 percent of the world’s Christmas decorations. While the city helped Chinese workers transform their fortunes, it has also opened up a wealth of opportunities for foreign migrants.

Although China doesn’t have laws recognizing refugees, it grants visas to people from war-torn countries.Ammar Albaadani, a 38-year-old Yemeni national, is now doing business in the small city. He said Yiwu was a very embracing city.

“We Arabs were the first who came to Yiwu to do business and participated in the city’s economic development. Now many of us – Yemenis, Syrians, and Iraqis – have wars in our countries. We need to give all of them some warmth.”

Since 2015, China’s strict immigration laws have been relaxed, starting in the country’s commercial center, Shanghai, to attract more highly-skilled workers. The policy has helped attract more talent from overseas as well as boost international exchanges and the economy, according to a statement from the Ministry of Public Security.

One year after new measures were implemented, Shanghai saw a six-time year-on-year increase in the number of permanent residence applications from foreigners and their families.

The number of such applications in Beijing last year increased 426 percent from that of 2015.

Last year, 900,000 foreigners were legally employed to work in the Chinese mainland. This month, China announced plans to streamline its system of work permits to foreign nationals, aiming to attract skilled foreigners to contribute to the country’s development.

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