In a bid to lift its human rights protection to international standards, as well as make good on another presidential campaign promises, the Cabinet's task force for human rights protection has been working on a draft of the nation's first refugee law, which was shown off yesterday.
The draft refugee law (難民法) is the nation's first attempt at regulating refugee and asylum-seeking issues by domestic law, said an official of the Research, Development and Evaluation Commission, who described it as an attempt to establish a complete refugee shelter system, including the right of political asylum, something that until now Taiwan has lacked.
"Although we are not yet a member of the International Refugee Organization as signatories of the Refugee Convention, we still have to follow international values regarding human rights issue," the official said.
The 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol is the main international treaty regarding refugees, and the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights also articulates that "everyone has the right to seek and enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution."
"Taiwan has a history of dealing with refugees," the official said. "We received some 3,000 refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia and the Laos in 1975, and through the Jen Te Project (仁德專案) in 1976 we also temporarily received 6,000 Vietnamese refugees. They were all eventually resettled in the US."
Park Young-sil, a North Korean woman who was carried by a Panama-registered cargo ship to Kaohsiung on Wednesday, is the most recent case dealt with by the government.
The draft bill defines a refugee as a "foreigner who has a justified expectation of suppression and persecution by his or her own nation, and therefore cannot or is unwilling to go back to his or her motherland, and seeks political asylum from the government of Taiwan."
If a refugee has not entered Taiwan, he or she can apply for political asylum to the embassy or representative office of Taiwan in that country, and if the asylum-seeker enters Taiwan illegally, he or she should contact the Ministry of the Interior as soon as possible, according to the bill.
The related agencies would form a committee, says the draft, to review whether the nation should give the asylum-seeker a "refugee ID card," and the refugee should present proof to the committee that he or she has a justified fear of persecution in his or her mother country.
The draft, however, excludes Chinese from the category of "foreigners."
"According to the Constitution, Chinese are not regarded as foreigners," said a Mainland Affairs Council official who refused to give her name. There are different regulations for Chinese who want to stay in Taiwan, she said, because "we have a special relationship with China."
A Chinese man named Xu Bo (徐波) asked for asylum in January this year but his request for asylum was turned down, as was that of Tang Yuanjun (