A draft refugee act yesterday passed initial review at the Legislative Yuan’s Internal Administration Committee, with the final version establishing an asylum application process for the first time in the nation’s history.
It seeks to grant protection to victims of persecution, while stopping short of providing asylum guarantees to people persecuted because of their gender or sexual orientation.
“Today is the happiest meeting the Internal Administration Committee has had this session,” committee co-convener and Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Huang Chao-shun (黃昭順) said after an unusually smooth discussion session.
While this session’s committee meetings have been marked by extended quarrels over legislative rules and transitional justice legislation, yesterday’s committee finished the review in less than two hours, passing a draft bill that largely resembled the Executive Yuan’s official version.
Deputy Minister of the Interior Hua Ching-chun (花敬群) said the draft bill was originally presented under the administration of former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) in 2006, with the ministry handling refugees on a case-by-case basis.
The draft bill seeks to allow foreigners or stateless persons to apply for asylum if they can demonstrate that they have been forced out of their homelands because of war or natural disaster, while also granting asylum to those who demonstrate that they have ample reason to fear persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, social group or political views.
Amendments to the Act Governing Relations Between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area (兩岸人民關係條例), which passed initial committee review last month, could also be applicable alongside the proposed refugee bill to help groups such as Tibetans and Chinese dissidents if the draft bills are passed by the Legislative Yuan’s general assembly.
Yesterday’s committee discussion focused on several amendments proposed by legislators to further guarantee refugee rights, such as giving refugee claimants the right to appeal application rejections, granting applicants the right to receive a written decision in a language they can understand and forbidding the Ministry of Interior from drafting implementation rules that violate provisions of the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.
Legislators also stripped the draft bill of language that would have denied asylum to people who would threaten the nation’s “good morals,” while requiring the ministry to “take into consideration” gender and sexual orientation in determining refugee status.
An appended motion proposed by DPP Legislator Yu Mei-nu (尤美女) would have included gender and sexual orientation within the bill’s definition of protection against persecution for those who belong to a “special social group,” but was revised following opposition from Hua.
“We will pay attention to [gender and sexual orientation] while determining refugee status, but it would not be appropriate to write these into the law because portions of these issues will involve individual cognition,” Hua said. “Sexual discrimination is purely an individual feeling that would probably involve medical judgement, so these would be individual cases — what if a country does not allow someone to marry their partner and then they come to Taiwan seeking asylum?”
The draft bill is to be referred to the Legislative Yuan’s general assembly, along with a proposed ethnic fairness act passed by the committee on Wednesday.
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