Reform of the residence registration or hukou system has created new barriers and discrimination against rural migrants, Human Rights in China said in a report released yesterday. 'Although the government began to announce 'reforms' of the hukou system in the mid-1990s . . . these were not aimed at ending the controls on migration,' the report said. 'Instead, they have constructed complex new barriers to migrants' entry into the cities and a web of discriminatory rules that effectively put them in a similar situation to 'guest workers' or illegal immigrants . . . in rich countries,' it added. The 130-page report accused the government of violating international human rights standards to keep the 'poorest out of the centres of power'. It dismissed moves to build small migrant towns as window-dressing aimed at developing a 'second-class urbanisation with minimal state investment in basic infrastructure and services'. The hukou system was introduced in 1949. Citizens were divided into rural and urban categories. In the early years, rural residents lived in communes but the end of collective farming and economic reforms forced millions of rural residents to give up farming and seek work in cities. However, the migrants - estimates run as high as more than 200 million - were often blamed for deteriorating social order and rising unemployment in cities. Without urban residency, migrants were subject to administrative controls imposed by localities. Human Rights in China said these controls bred corruption and human rights abuses. 'The new system provides enormous opportunities for rent-seeking and what can be termed licensed extortion, in which poor migrants are subject to endless demands for fees, fines and protection money that eat up a large part of their meagre earnings,' it said. The watchdog urged the government to adopt measures that would encourage the migrants to stay in the countryside. 'If the Chinese government is serious about averting massive and unmanageable rural migration to its cities, it should immediately act to reverse the discriminatory policies that have created this situation, addressing the urgent need for public services and investment in the countryside and for mechanisms to make local officials accountable to the people they are supposed to serve,' the report said.