For Hong Kong students in Taiwan, island’s freedom and democracy appeal
- Young Hongkongers living in Taipei say there is a ‘sense of crisis’ over the extradition bill
- More than 30 protesters have reportedly fled to the island, fearing they will be prosecuted, and another 30 are planning to do the same
Published: 11:00am, 20 Jul, 2019
Lin Fei-fan, who was a leader of the Sunflower movement in 2014, said the campaign against the extradition bill in Hong Kong was being closely watched in Taiwan. Photo: AFPHongkongers studying in Taiwan who support the campaign against the city’s controversial extradition billsay moving to the self-ruled island permanently is an option – but it is not a decision they want to rush into.
They say the now-suspended bill has created a “sense of crisis”, and they fear they could lose their freedoms if the Hong Kong government is forced to take tougher action against protesters.
Gary Cheung, 25, who is studying filmmaking at the National Taiwan University of Arts in Taipei, said he could understand Hong Kong protesters wanting to flee to the island.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if a group of Hong Kong people are seeking political asylum here, fearing they will be prosecuted or even jailed for their involvement in the protests over the extradition bill,” Cheung said.
On Friday, Taiwanese media reported that more than 30 Hongkongers had arrived in Taiwan to seek shelter because they feared they would be prosecuted over their involvement in storming the city’s legislature during protests on July 1.
The activists were receiving assistance from local NGOs and human rights groups and were staying in different locations on the island, and another 30 protesters still in Hong Kong were also planning to go to Taiwan, according to the reports.
“The bill has yet to be retracted and could possibly be revived if the Hong Kong government is forced by the mainland to take tougher action,” Cheung said, despite a pledge by Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor that the shelved bill was “dead”. “That uncertainty explains why a number of protesters have this sense of crisis over the possible repercussions of the mass protests.”
Hong Kong has been rocked by protests and violent clashes since early June, with up to 2 million demonstrators taking to the streets to oppose the bill that would allow the transfer of criminal suspects to jurisdictions including mainland China, where critics say there is no guarantee of a fair trial. The government suspended the bill, but protesters have continued to call for its full withdrawal and an independent investigation into the use of force by police.
Cheung was one of dozens of Hong Kong students in Taiwan who showed their support for the protesters outside the presidential office in Taipei last month, calling on the island’s leader, Tsai Ing-wen, to help those seeking asylum.
“I can’t imagine what it will be like if this bill is revived and passed,” he said, claiming that Beijing could easily use it to detain people for speaking out against it.
“Taiwan is the place of choice for many Hong Kong people, given its free and democratic environment. And since the government has offered strong support for the anti-extradition bill campaign, I hope it can reach out to these people and lend them a helping hand,” he said.Tsai has acknowledged that Hong Kong protesters have fled to Taiwan and said the government would consider any applications to seek shelter there “on humanitarian grounds”, according to Taiwan’s Central News Agency.
Cheung, a first-year student, said staying in Taiwan was also an option for him after he graduated.
“But I still want to go back to Hong Kong after graduation, to do something for my fellow citizens and do all I can to maintain the freedom and democracy there,” said Cheung, who was one of more than 80 people arrested and charged with “obstructing public servants in the course of their duty” when the final Occupy Central pro-democracy protesters were cleared from Mong Kok in 2014.
Another Hong Kong student in Taipei, Ho Wing-tung, 22, who set up Hong Kong Outlanders, a group supporting the anti-extradition protesters, said she was pessimistic about the city’s future.
“Even if we succeed in blocking the bill, there will be a second, third and fourth draconian bill to replace it sooner or later,” said Ho, who is in the final year of a philosophy degree at Chinese Culture University.
“Since the one country, two systems model has been applied in Hong Kong, the mainland authorities have gradually changed what they want to change to obstruct a free and democratic system in the city,” she said. “Where is the so-called autonomy the Chinese government promised?”
Ho added that Taiwanese should not believe that the model would be good for them.
“Many Hong Kong people aged between 20 and 30 believe that the city would be better off being free from mainland control,” she said.
Ho said living permanently in Taiwan was an option for her, but she also expected Beijing would try to erode the city’s freedoms and she wanted to do something for Hong Kong by going back and voicing her opposition.
Lin Fei-fan, 31, who was a leader of the Sunflower student movement in Taiwan in 2014 that blocked a sweeping trade deal with the mainland, said many civic groups and the Taiwanese government supported the campaign against the extradition bill in Hong Kong, and they were watching the situation closely.
“Taiwan doesn’t have refugee legislation, but for those who need help from the government they can use the Act Governing Relations with Hong Kong and Macau,” Lin said.
Under the act, assistance is to be provided to residents of the two cities if their safety and liberty are immediately threatened for political reasons.
Lin said the Hong Kong protesters should be able to stay in Taiwan if they met certain requirements.
There are nearly 9,000 students from Hong Kong in Taiwan at present. They can apply for permanent residency after working in Taiwan for five years, and they must live there for 183 days of the year.
Taiwan struggling to deal with influx of Hong Kong protesters seeking refuge
- Anywhere between a dozen and 60 protesters have arrived on the island since July, but there is no clear legal road map for how to process their cases
- President Tsai Ing-wen has said their cases will be handled ‘appropriately’ but it is not clear if the government will give them refuge
Published: 7:15am, 20 Jul, 2019
It will be difficult to verify the recent arrivals’ claims to have taken part in the Hong Kong protests. Photo: Antony Dickson
Taiwan is struggling to handle the sudden arrival of dozens of extradition bill protesters from Hong Kong who want to seek refuge on the self-ruled island.
Although members of Taiwanese civil society have already offered safe houses for the new arrivals, their status remains unclear since the protesters have not yet been charged with criminal offences in Hong Kong and verifying their claims to have taken part in the mass protests will be tricky.
Legal analysts also warned that the situation would be further complicated by Taiwan’s lack of clear and specific laws on handling asylum and refugee claims.Although President Tsai Ing-wen said on Thursday that Taiwan would “handle their cases in appropriate ways” and on “humanitarian grounds”, the government has yet to indicate if it would offer refuge to the protesters.
According to Taiwanese activists who are assisting the new arrivals, between a dozen and 60 protesters have arrived from Hong Kong since early July, most of whom are currently staying in hostels with the aid of local civic bodies.
Activists argue that Taiwan urgently needs to speed up its legislative process for handling refugees and asylum seekers as the island has seen an increasing number of applicants from places such as mainland China, Southeast Asia and the Middle East in recent years
However, they said the new arrivals from Hong Kong were a surprise and questioned whether the Taiwanese public would welcome them.
“Would the Taiwan public accept their vandalising of the legislature in Hong Kong as an act of non-violence?” asked Bei Ling, a researcher from the National Chung Cheng University in Taipei. “Would they be seen as democracy activists who are fighting for political freedom?”
“I think such a consensus may not even be shared among the politicians in Taiwan,” Bei said, pointing out that the protesters from Hong Kong – many of whom wore masks during the July 1 protests – could not be compared with the local activists who campaigned for greater democracy without concealing their identity during Taiwan’s Sunflower Movement in 2014.
Bei said that the protesters’ case was also weakened because they would need to prove that they would face political persecution if they returned to Hong Kong, but they had not been officially charged and were able to leave the city legally.
Under Taiwanese law, the government is obliged to offer the “necessary assistance … [to] Hong Kong or Macau residents whose safety and liberty face immediate threats for political reasons”.
But Tseng Chien-yuan, chairman of the New School for Democracy and a consultant to the Taipei city government, said there were other options available for the Hong Kong protesters who want to stay in Taiwan.
“The Hongkongers can stay in Taiwan by extending their tourist visas as a temporary solution or they can apply for longer-term options such as work or study visas before they can apply for residency,” he said.
“They can extend their one-month tourist visas upon expiry on political grounds, although Taiwan doesn’t have a system to handle asylum applications,” he said.
“One can apply for residency [in Taiwan] with an investment of no less than NT$6 million [US$193,000), get a job that pays no less than NT$50,000 a month or get a student visa by enrolling with a local university. They can then apply for residency if they work in Taiwan for five years after graduation and stay here for at least 183 days each year.”
The island, which Beijing insists is part of China, is not a party to the United Nations’ Refugee Convention – which outlines the rights of those who are granted asylum and the responsibilities of nations granting asylum – and does not have its own legislation on refugees.
Chiu E-ling, secretary general of the Taiwan Association for Human Rights, called on the Taiwanese government to speed up legislation to process refugees and offer protection to asylum seekers because of the rising number of claims.
Katherine Tseng Hui-yi, from the East Asian Institute of the National University of Singapore, said the fate of the protesters could become a political issue that may influence Taiwan’s presidential elections in January.
“Tsai Ing-wen can claim credit from these cases,” she said.
However, Geng Shuang, a spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry in Beijing, ridiculed the independence-leaning president using a slang term for someone standing on shaky ground.
“Save your false compassion [for Hong Kong people],” said Geng on Friday when asked about Tsai’s comments. “You are nothing but a clay idol crossing the river.”
Separately, Hong Kong lawmaker Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, a member of the city’s Executive Council, or cabinet, said the relationship between Hong Kong and Taiwan would suffer if Taipei offered refuge to the protesters and the island would be seen as a “haven” for lawbreakers.
“It could affect our law enforcement agencies’ future communication and cooperation with Taiwan police. It will also send out a bad message that Taiwan is willing to grant asylum to criminals,” she said.
The Hong Kong Security Bureau and police did not comment on the cases.
Tsai Ing-wen says ‘friends from Hong Kong’ will be considered for asylum on humanitarian grounds
- Taiwanese president makes first acknowledgement of reports that Hong Kong protesters are fleeing to the island
- Act Governing Relations with Hong Kong and Macau allows Taiwan to assist where safety and liberty are threatened for political reasons, but it is not party to UN Refugee Convention
Published: 11:45am, 19 Jul, 2019
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Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen acknowledged the reported arrivals during her visit to the Caribbean. Photo: EPA-EFE
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has acknowledged for the first time claims that Hong Kong protesters are fleeing to the self-ruled island and said it would consider any applications to seek shelter there on humanitarian grounds.Tsai was speaking after media reports suggested that at least a dozen and as many as 60 protesters had arrived in Taiwan or were planning to seek shelter there, following protests and violent clashes in Hong Kong over the city’s extradition bill.
“I believe relevant departments are keeping abreast of the situation,” Tsai was quoted as saying by Taiwan’s Central News Agency in a media briefing in Saint Lucia on day two of her tour of the Caribbean.
“These friends from Hong Kong will be treated in an appropriate way on humanitarian grounds.”
Radio Free Asia reported on Thursday that about 10 Hong Kong protesters had arrived in Taiwan. Apple Daily said about 30 had arrived on the island and 30 more were planning to follow.
It said it would provide necessary assistance to Hong Kong citizens whose safety and freedom were threatened by political factors.
An unnamed Taiwan lawyer who helps Hong Kong residents arriving in Taiwan told Radio Free Asia the protesters had encountered technical difficulties in seeking to extend their stay.
Protests and violent clashes have been ongoing in Hong Kong since early June. The Hong Kong government has said the extradition bill – which would allow the transfer of criminal suspects to jurisdictions the city does not have an extradition deal with, including mainland China – is “dead”, but protesters have demanded its formal withdrawal and an independent investigation into the use of force by Hong Kong police.On Thursday, the European Parliament voted to adopt a resolution calling for the formal withdrawal of the bill. Beijing said the motion represented “ignorance and prejudice”.
A pro-establishment “Safeguard Hong Kong” rally will be staged on Saturday to condemn violence and support police, a day before another massive march against the city’s embattled government.
Taiwan’s Act Governing Relations with Hong Kong and Macau says necessary assistance shall be provided to Hong Kong or Macau residents whose safety and liberty are immediately threatened for political reasons.
The Taiwan Association for Human Rights, an independent non-governmental organisation, said it had not received any inquiries from Hongkongers who said they had taken part in the protests. It said potential asylum seekers in Taiwan faced an uncertain application process.
The island is not a party to the United Nations’ Refugee Convention – which outlines the rights of those who are granted asylum and the responsibilities of nations granting asylum – and does not have its own legislation on refugees.
“When people want to apply for asylum, they would not know if their conditions qualify or how the government would assess their case,” Wang Si, a legal specialist with the association, said.
Additional reporting by Linda Lew, Tony Cheung and Catherine Wong