New Power Party Legislator Freddy Lim (林昶佐) on Wednesday pushed for progress on legislation concerning refugees, which has been stalled in the legislature for nearly two years.
President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) has on numerous occasions spoken about the nation’s commitment to helping address the worldwide refugee crisis and has cited more than 100,000 Southeast Asian immigrants living in Taiwan as evidence of the nation’s welcoming attitude toward those seeking refuge.
However, most Southeast Asian immigrants come to Taiwan not as refugees, but as spouses, and the nation’s lack of refugee laws makes asylum applications possible only on an ad hoc, case-by-case basis.
The situation is even more complex for Chinese asylum seekers, who the nation’s laws see not as foreigners, but as compatriots from the “mainland area.”
Former Chinese citizen Zhou Shuguang (周曙光) obtained citizenship on Thursday and Chinese human rights campaigner Huang Yan (黃燕) was on May 30 allowed to stay in Taiwan for three months.
Zhou’s case was touted as evidence of the strength of Taiwan’s democracy and its willingness to extend support to Chinese who are persecuted by their government. However, he gained citizenship based on his marriage to a Taiwanese and seven years of residency. Huang, who applied for residency based on her UN-granted refugee status, has been granted only temporary residence pending a decision in her case.
The Legislative Yuan in 2009 ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Taiwan signed in 1967 and prohibits nations from returning individuals to other nations where they could face the risk of human rights violations or abuse, but Taiwan still lacks a refugee law and has sent Chinese asylum seekers back to China.
Taiwan Association for Human Rights secretary-general Chiu Ee-ling (邱伊翎) said that Chinese asylum seekers are generally first sent to a detention center where the association, with the assistance of Chinese democracy advocates such as Wang Dan (王丹), visits them to verify their identity and ascertain the legitimacy of their claims of dissidence.
Cases of Tibetan asylum seekers are often left in limbo with applicants left unable to apply for identification cards, which they would need to find employment or use the national healthcare system.
However, this was not always the case. A Feb. 1, 1980, report in the English-language Free China Weekly (now Taiwan Today) described then-president Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) sending navy ships to intercept and rescue ethnic Chinese refugees fleeing Vietnam on makeshift rafts, and airlifting Vietnamese refugees from Thailand to resettle them in Taiwan.
“The Free China Relief Association was entrusted with the mission of establishing a reception center for boat people. Buildings at a village in the Penghu Islands were taken over and prepared for use as a refugee camp,” the report said.
Refugees also fled China at the time, many attempting to reach Taiwan by way of Kinmen, but in the 1980s the government grew reluctant to take in refugees, especially from China. Whether out of fear of espionage, concern about harming cross-strait relations or some other reason, the policy of welcoming Chinese refugees with open arms came to an end.
Asylum and refugee laws — particularly laws friendly to Chinese dissidents — would give Taiwan leverage in its bid for international recognition. Welcoming Chinese asylum seekers would underscore the political differences between China and Taiwan, and their stories would lend a strong voice to Taiwan’s international participation efforts.
The world is familiar with the plight of Tibet largely because it has a strong spokesperson in the Dalai Lama. Building a strong community of exiled Chinese democracy advocates in Taiwan would simultaneously lend strength to that community, while bringing needed attention to Taiwan.
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