Chinese dissidents Liu Xinglian and Yan Kefen now find themselves in a unique legal limbo, as they have spent more than three months in a restricted transit area after touching down at Taipei’s Taoyuan International Airport in late September.
Liu marked his 64th birthday last Wednesday, with no one but another mainlander who has also filed for asylum status with Taiwanese authorities.
Their case has parallels with that of Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, the Saudi teen who was given sanctuary in Canada, after she stirred up a social media storm to shame Thai authorities against forcibly returning her to a possibly dangerous fate in Arabia, warning that her family would kill her.
Liu and his friend Yan, 44, have applied for asylum in Canada and posted updates on social media from the airport about their plight and helplessness.
Confined in the restricted area, they could only live on a diet of boxed meals provided by airlines, but other than the food, they said that they had been treated well by Taiwanese officials.
And now the duo wonder if they have chosen the wrong place to file applications to be refugees, as according to Taiwanese media, the self-governed island’s lack of UN representation means that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees does not operate there. Nor does the island have laws to protect refugees or process their applications.
Taiwan seldom allows in those fleeing China, as it fears that would encourage a deluge of people from the mainland. Yet the incumbent administration, while blocking them from entering Taiwan, has so far made no moves to deport Liu and Yan.
They both fell foul of Chinese authorities for political activism and fled to Thailand in previous years, but the current Thai government does not recognize asylum applications and allows some cases to be vetted by the United Nations’ refugee agency. However, the UNHCR struggles with a huge backlog of cases and limits on what it can do because Thailand has never ratified the UN Convention of Refugees and sometimes limits access to applicants.
The Chinese pair ultimately received refugee status but Thai police started paying them frequent visits and the duo decided to fly the coup before the Beijing-friendly junta decided to deport them back to their homeland.
In recent years over 100 Uighurs and a slew of campaigners, some of whom had been granted asylum in Canada, were forcibly returned to China.
Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council has acknowledged that the island’s mechanism for dealing with refugee claimants is not yet adequate, but said it would uphold human rights and the safety of this pair until a solution is found.
Canada’s consulate in Hong Kong declined to comment, citing privacy rules, according to AFP.