【Press Release】Follow the principle of non-refoulement! Publicize progress on a refugee law! 6/20 World Refugee Day Press Conference

Translated by: Zoe Wang, Intern

On June 20th, which is World Refugee Day, Taiwan Association for Human Rights and Amnesty International Taiwan held a press conference together with a Congressman and members of different civil groups. They called on the Taiwanese government to publicize progress on creating a refugee law, implement the findings from the Third National Review of ICCPR and ICESCR (兩公約第三次國家報告), write the non-refoulement principle into law, and improve the asylum system. They also called for the establishment of an effective refugee status determination mechanism that protects refugees on the front lines of law enforcement while improving the training of law enforcement personnel to more closely follow international human rights conventions, the principle of non-refoulement, and other refugee protection concepts in order to prevent the recurrence of Taiwan’s immigration agency deporting individuals at risk of persecution to life-threatening areas.

Congressman Chiu Hsien-chih (邱顯智) emphasized that the right to asylum is a fundamental human right and that the protection of basic human rights is a key distinction between Taiwan and neighboring authoritarian governments. He says that establishing a transparent asylum review process and writing the non-refoulement principle into law will provide predictability for applicants and the authorities and is an essential responsibility of a democratic country. Moreover, different parties have proposed their own versions of what they want a refugee law to look like. According to the Nation Human Rights Action Plan, the Executive Yuan must send a draft refugee law to the Legislative Yuan before next year, but in order for the international community to believe that Taiwan is genuinely committed to improving its protection of human rights, the Executive Yuan must publish a clear account of their current progress. Congressman Chiu also urged the government to thoroughly review past refugee case handling issues, establish an effective mechanism for refugee status determination and refugee protection at the frontline of law enforcement, and improve the training of law enforcement officials to more closely follow international human rights conventions, the non-refoulement principle, etc. Since the principle of asylum is deeply rooted in human rights conventions, Taiwan must implement his suggestions as to not become an accomplice to human rights violations in authoritarian countries.

Huang Song-lih (黃嵩立), the Director of the Policy Center at Covenant Watch (人權公約施行監督聯盟), pointed out that national human rights obligations derived from the six core international human rights conventions, which have been written into law in Taiwan, go beyond the protections provided by the 1951 Refugee Convention. Covenant Watch urged the government to: (1) expeditiously pass a refugee law that complies with the provisions of the six core human rights conventions; (2) even in the absence of a refugee law, when handling cases involving non-nationals seeking asylum, non-nationals who are not subject to expulsion, and extradition cases, Taiwan should adhere to the prohibition of non-refoulement stipulated in Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and relevant international standards (CAT GC No. 4); (3) have a more explicit policy and plan regarding the protection and residency of Hong Kong people; (4) all institutions with the authority to decide whether non-nationals can stay or must leave, which include the administrative and judicial departments and individuals such as administrative officials, committee members, and judges, should receive relevant training to ensure familiarity with international human rights standards and legal frameworks, the fairness and transparency of the decision-making process, and the ability to respond appropriately to the needs of asylum seekers.

Qiu Yi-ling (邱伊翎), Secretary-General of Amnesty International Taiwan (國際特赦組織台灣分會), stated that the government's specific assistance to refugees already in Taiwan has yet to be clearly defined in terms of application procedures and review mechanisms. For refugee cases in Taiwan, only special reviews can be conducted based on Article 17 of the Act Governing Relations between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area and Article 18 of the Act Governing Relations between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Hong Kong Area. However, cases from countries outside China, Hong Kong, and Macau still face a situation where there are no clear procedures to follow. According to statistics from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the global population of forcibly displaced persons has exceeded 100 million, including over 5 million Ukrainian refugees, and over 70% of refugees are resettled in middle- and low-income countries, with most being neighboring countries of the refugee-producing nations rather than Western countries. Qiu Yi-ling mentioned that currently, Ukraine and Myanmar cases have only been granted a 30-day visa extension measure, lacking other basic rights. Cases of other nationalities cannot even have their visas extended and can only become undocumented migrants overstaying their visas. As a result, these cases are in a prolonged state of uncertainty and inhumane living conditions, making them more vulnerable to human trafficking. Therefore, Qiu Yi-ling called on the Executive Yuan to provide more specific implementation pathways for the refugee law in the National Human Rights Action Plan and not to discriminate against existing refugee cases based on nationality, which would improve the execution of a refugee law by frontline personnel.

Wang Si (王曦), the Deputy Secretary-General of the Taiwan Association for Human Rights (台灣人權促進會), explained that according to the public records of the Legislative Yuan, on May 12th during party negotiations, Congressman Hong Shen-han and the National Immigration Agency confirmed that the agency will temporarily use the existing "Provisional Alien Registration Permit" (臨時外僑登記證), which grants asylum seekers “residency-like status” (類推居留身分), to temporarily resolve the lack of legal status of asylum seekers. After reviewing and confirming that the reasons an individual is seeking asylum is legitimate, they will issue them a this “Provisional Alien Registration Permit” (臨時外僑登記證) and notify relevant ministries, including the Ministry of Labor, the Ministry of Health and Welfare, and the Ministry of Education, after which refugees will be able to enjoy rights foreign residents have, such as the ability to get a job, get health insurance, and go to school. While this is a step towards solving the problem of asylum seekers without a legal status at a moment when the refugee bill has been stalled for 18 years, further observation is needed on how future cases will be reviewed and how rights will be protected. The process of implementing this policy and establishing a comprehensive review mechanism (including whether the criteria meet international human rights conventions, the length of review, and how reviews are conducted) still falls short of general standards for legal clarity and administrative procedures and needs to be improved.

Lin Wen-liang (林文亮), Executive Director of the Asia Citizen Future Association (亞洲公民未來協會), called on the Taiwanese government to expedite the planning of refugee protection mechanisms amidst the shrinking of civil spaces in Southeast Asia. Authoritarian governments in Southeast Asia are imitating each other, using digital technology and cross-border cooperation to suppress dissenters. Additionally, more and more people have been displaced in recent years due to climate change and large-scale conflicts. However, asylum seekers face the risk of being arrested and returned to their countries even after leaving their borders due to neighboring countries ignoring and failing to adhere to the non-refoulement principle. Since the coup in Myanmar, Thailand has accepted the largest number of Myanmar refugees, but the Thai government has conducted large-scale arrests in border refugee camps to prevent Myanmar refugees from seeking protection from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Moreover, the validity period of a Myanmar passport is only five years, and the issuance of passports is directly controlled by the Ministry of Home Affairs, which is run by the military government. The military government uses the opportunity of people applying for passport renewal to arrest or confiscate their documents, leaving Myanmar refugees in exile without legal status in other countries. Taiwanese administrative units should systematically assist Myanmar immigrants instead of requiring individuals to seek help on their own.

As a representative of the Myanmar community, Thu Koko (杜可可), co-founder of the Taiwan Alliance with Myanmar (台灣聲援緬甸聯盟), stated that the political coup in Myanmar has lasted for over two years, during which more than 3,600 innocent people have been brutally killed by the authoritarian military in the most inhumane manner. Myanmar people continue to resist the military through bloodshed in their pursuit of democracy and freedom. Overseas Myanmar immigrants and students have been doing their best to help their homeland. However, the Myanmar military's arbitrary arrests and killings of the people have become routine. Anyone who has even a slight connection to opposing the coup is labeled as a terrorist, and possessing texts or images related to the coup on their mobile phones can lead to arrest and imprisonment. One of Thu Koko's friends was sentenced to life imprisonment simply because the military found evidence of their donation to an anti-coup organization. Myanmar has completely lost its human rights, and Myanmar students or people in Taiwan dare not return to their homeland. News has also emerged from Myanmar that some people who wanted to renew their expired passports had them confiscated, and they cannot update their expired documents. Myanmar people are unable to return home and cannot continue living or studying in Taiwan, living in fear and insecurity. Thu Koko emphasized that Taiwan is a leader of democracy and freedom in Asia, and he hopes that Taiwan will show more concern and take action on international human rights.

In summary, the attending organizations and Congressman at the press conference highlighted that the difficulties faced by the Myanmar community not only reflect the trend of shrinking regional civil spaces but also illustrate the serious deficiencies in Taiwan's refugee protection and asylum policies. Establishing a comprehensive legal framework and asylum system to protect the persecuted is an important responsibility and value for Taiwan as a democratic country that values human rights. Therefore, the government should follow the schedule of the National Human Rights Action Plan and commit to submitting the Executive Yuan’s version of the refugee bill to the Legislative Yuan for review by the end of next year. The National Immigration Agency should improve the existing refugee protection project, clearly implement the policy of "Provisional Alien Registration Permit" (臨時外僑登記證), grant "residency-like status" (類推居留身分) to foreigners who have evidence of persecution, and establish an effective mechanism and systematic review process for refugee status determination and protection at the frontline of law enforcement.

Live stream link: https://www.facebook.com/tahr1984/videos/286289990480622

Press conference photo folder: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1SvqxZS0qwMpLvAR8JG9FLmmPywmafXgP 

Press contacts: 

Taiwan Association for Human Rights | Lai Yan-rong (賴彥蓉)

Amnesty International Taiwan | Zhou Ya-hu (周雅琥)