Formalizing assistance for refugees

By Bei Ling 貝嶺  / 

Fri, Mar 29, 2019 - Page 8

More than 50 days have passed since Jan. 30, when Yan Kefen (顏克芬), also known as Yan Bojun (顏伯鈞), and Liu Xinglian (劉興聯) — Chinese passport holders who are recognized as refugees by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) — were granted entry into Taiwan. This is probably the first time in the history of the Republic of China that UNHCR-recognized refugees have been admitted for the purpose of “short-term professional exchanges.”

What exactly do the regulations mean by “professional?” It means someone who has the ability and experience of engaging in a certain type of specialized work. In the case of these two men, especially Liu, the work they were engaged in when they were in China had to do with human rights — an occupation that could put them in considerable danger.

According to the two men’s public statements, before they fled to Thailand, they had been jailed in China for their human rights work. In 2015, Liu was secretary-general of China Rights Observer, a non-governmental organization (NGO) based in Wuhan. In 2013, Yan was a member of the New Citizen’s Movement and did publicity work for it.

From the perspective of the officials responsible for reviewing their application to enter Taiwan, this might have been the justification for allowing them to enter the country with visas stating the purpose of their visit as “short-term professional exchanges.”

On Sept. 27 last year, the two men, carrying their Chinese passports, boarded a China Airlines flight to Taiwan, where they were to transfer to a flight to Beijing, but after landing at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, they applied to airport immigration for entry to Taiwan.

Several days later, Yan, who had resided for three years at the “refugee house” that I set up in Bangkok, telephoned me and other people to ask for urgent assistance.

Having confirmed their identities, and based on humanitarian principles and professional considerations, the authorities gave their approval for Liu and Yan to first fly to a third country, where they were quickly given visas for the purpose of “short-term professional exchanges” and were then able to fly back to Taiwan to be allowed entry as “professionals.”

Until then, they had been stranded in the airport’s departure hall for more than 120 days.

Late on Jan. 30, the two men, accompanied by a Mainland Affairs Council official and their guarantor, Chung Hua University associate professor Tseng Chien-yuan (曾建元), went to stay in a rented bungalow at a military dependents’ village. I had cleared this house out and reserved it for them almost two months before. Thus, they became guests in Taipei’s equivalent of the “refugee house” in Bangkok.

In preparation for their arrival, this new refugee house was equipped with a full range of daily necessities, such as bicycles, duvets, pillows, warm winter clothing, bathroom items and kitchenware. After moving in, they started living a free and normal life in Taiwan. I went with them by bicycle to buy fruit, vegetables and other food items at a traditional market. I also showed them how to make use of public libraries and university campuses. With a bit of help, they have gradually become accustomed to Taiwan.

Thankfully, their professional abilities were recognized by the Permanent Peace Partnership — an NGO whose mission is to promote “permanent peace” all over the world, and persuade people and organizations to sign their “Charter for Permanent Peace.”

Since the middle of last month, the two dissidents have been spending time at the office of the Permanent Peace Partnership, where they have concentrated on studying the charter. They have written several papers examining the charter’s origins and its connections with various nations’ theories of constitutional democracy.

One of their articles is titled “The Thoughts About Building a Contractual Society in Immanuel Kant’s Perpetual Peace.” Having entered Taiwan as professionals, they are indeed fulfilling that status by serving as short-term researchers in an NGO.

Liu had ailments before arriving in Taiwan. A health examination at Mackay Memorial Hospital in Taipei showed that he has post-stroke conditions, tumors, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and kidney disease that require urgent treatment.

Yan and Liu have been familiarizing themselves with Taiwan’s free society, where they can go about their lives free from fear. After all the trouble they went through before being admitted to Taiwan, they hope that they can start a new life here and that Taiwan can accept them as residents.

Taiwanese and government agencies should learn the answers to some questions, such as: What is a UNHCR-recognized refugee? What is a UNHCR refugee card, which the agency might issue after evaluating an applicant’s situation? How does the UNHCR operate in Southeast Asia?

In the spirit of freedom and democracy — of which Taiwanese are so proud — we should urge the legislature to place the draft law on refugees and political asylum on its agenda for deliberation and put it to a vote. When this law is enacted, Taiwan will have the legal basis required to accept UNHCR-recognized refugees who come here in search of political asylum.

Bei Ling is an exiled Chinese writer.

Translated by Julian Clegg