For years the Chinese town of Yiwu has welcomed business-savvy Syrians, Yemenis, Libyans and Iraqis. Although China does not have laws recognising refugees, it has granted visas to migrants who want to set up businesses to pursue higher education in the country. In 2016, Yiwu city issued 9,675 people with temporary residence permits, almost half of them from war-torn countries including Iraq, Yemen, Syria and Afghanistan.

YouTube video

This film by the Thomson Reuters Foundation tells the story of three people. Ammar Albaadani, first came to China from Yemen 19 years ago as a student on a state scholarship. When fighting in his country escalated three years ago, he decided to settle in Yiwu.

Manar Abdulhussein, 38, left behind bombings and attacks in the Iraqi capital Baghdad five years ago and moved her family business to Yiwu with her husband and sons.

Mike, a 24-year-old actor from Syria, who goes by his professional name, is a newcomer to the city. He plans to apply for a business visa, and hopes to achieve permanent residency one day.

Christmas Town migrants
Photo: Reuters screenshot.

Yet that is difficult to achieve under China’s immigration rules which are among the strictest in the world for foreigners seeking permanent residency. As a result, many of the city’s migrants are worried about how long they will be able to stay in what has become their second home.

Reuters Logo


Reuters, the news and media division of Thomson Reuters, is one of the world’s largest international multimedia news providers, reaching more than one billion people every day. Reuters 2,600 journalists in nearly 200 locations around the globe deliver unparalleled international and national news coverage with speed, impartiality and insight to professionals via Thomson Reuters desktops, the world’s media organizations and directly to consumers on