Sun, Jan 20, 2019 - Page 3 News List

FEATURE: Chinese refugees’ Taoyuan airport stay breaks 100 days

TRAPPED IN LIMBO:The two asylum seekers have been unable to enter Taiwan, as the nation has no refugee laws, after they fled Thailand, which does not offer asylum itself

AFP, TAIPEI

Chinese dissidents Liu Xinglian, right, and Yan Kefen pose for a selfie at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport in a photograph provided by Yan Kefen.

Photo: AFP PHOTO / Courtesy of Yan Kefen

Chinese dissident Liu Xinglian (劉興聯) marked his 64th birthday on Wednesday at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, one of two refugees who have been trapped in limbo there for more than 100 days, hoping for asylum overseas.

Their case has parallels with that of Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, the Saudi teen who was given sanctuary in Canada after she deployed social media to shame Thai authorities against forcibly returning her to her family.

However, the Chinese asylum seekers have received little international attention or solidarity.

Like al-Qunun, Liu and his friend Yan Kefen (顏克芬), 44, have applied for asylum in Canada and posted updates on social media from the airport highlighting their plight.

“Inside the airport we can’t breathe fresh air and there’s no sunlight,” Liu told reporters by telephone from the fourth-floor room in transit where the pair have spent much of the past three months, subsisting on a diet of boxed meals provided by airlines.

“That can’t be too healthy right?” he said.

Liu and Yan are hostage to Taiwan’s international status and its politics.

The nation’s lack of UN representation means that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) does not operate here. There are also no laws to protect refugees.

Over the past few decades, administrations have been loathe to allow in those fleeing China, fearful of angering Beijing or encouraging a deluge.

President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) administration — which has taken a more skeptical view of Beijing and vocally pushed its human rights credentials — has so far made no moves to deport Liu and Yan.

As a result, they are stuck — blocked from entering Taiwan, yet unable to leave the transit area.

The pair never intended to end up in Taiwan. Both fell foul of Chinese authorities for political activism and fled to Thailand, Yan arriving in 2015, Liu in 2017.

Bangkok does not recognize asylum applications and outsources the determination of refugee status to UNHCR, which tries to resettle legitimate claimants in a third country.

However, the waiting list is notoriously long.

Yan and Liu received refugee status from UNHCR — they sent reporters copies of their documentation — and were happy to remain in Thailand while they sought asylum.

However, Thai police started paying them frequent visits.

“I felt my life was in danger in Bangkok,” Yan said. “I was also afraid Thai police would deport me back to China.”

They had reason to worry.

Thailand has moved closer to Beijing since generals seized power in 2014, showing a willingness to forcibly return Chinese dissidents.

More than 100 Uighurs and a slew of campaigners, some of whom had been granted asylum in Canada, have been sent back over the past five years.

Bookseller Gui Minhai (桂民海), a Swedish citizen, disappeared from the Thai city of Pattaya and resurfaced on Chinese state TV making a “confession.”

Liu and Yan made a run for it, landing in Taipei on Sept. 27 last year.

“We just wanted to get out of Thailand when we boarded that plane,” said Yan, who also uses the name Yan Bojun (顏伯鈞). “We did not have any plans except asking for refuge during our stopover.”

Liu and Yan do not fear imminent deportation and said that they have been treated well by local officials.

“We don’t want to create trouble for Taiwan, but we need to go onto Facebook and Twitter so that people will not forget us,” Yan said.

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