Two Chinese political asylum seekers say they are still recovering from their time in an overcrowded Thai immigration detention center, and could face being redetained at a court hearing next Monday, while two asylum-claimants in Taiwan have been threatened with removal after their eviction from an airside hotel, RFA has learned.
Wu Yuhua and Yang Chong, who face charges of violating Thai immigration law despite holding United Nations documents describing them as refugees, are currently out on bail in the Thai capital.
Wu, who is also known by her nickname Ai Wu, was detained by police in Bangkok with her husband Yang Chong on Aug. 29 and locked up in an immigration detention center.
She said she has noticed a marked change in her husband’s demeanor since his release.
“Since his release, his language and memory seem to work more slowly than before; it’s pretty marked,” she told RFA. “The conditions in the jail were pretty poor; the place was overcrowded … with three people crowded into a space where two people should be.”
“I also suffered a bit in there … it’s too crowded and it’s hard to get any sleep,” she said.
Photos of the detention center shared with RFA showed basic concrete cells with steel mesh bars in place of a wall on one side, similar to cages at a zoo.
Yang was also made to wear manacles for at least some of his detention, according to a photo of him seen by RFA.
“I feel unwell, and I can’t sleep well. The court could put us back in immigration detention or even send us back [to China],” he told RFA.
“We are constantly waiting, waiting � then immigration prison, [though] we haven’t committed any crime,” he said. “But they can still lock you up in there without any time limit; they can lock you up in there indefinitely.”
Wu said there has been a marked deterioration in Yang’s mental state since his incarceration, where she described conditions as “inhumane.”
“We will make our arguments in court; they will provide evidence of my [alleged] guilt, and I will provide evidence of my innocence,” she said.
Targeted by police
Yang and Wu were initially targeted by Chinese police after taking part in the press freedom protests in the southern city of Guangzhou in January 2013.
They fled the country in February 2015 and made their way to Thailand after Wu started a support group for disappeared rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng. In Thailand, they eked out an existence without papers in the country’s Pattaya region.
They were approved as political refugees by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Bangkok in 2017, but had yet to be accepted for resettlement in a third country amid a global tightening of national immigration policies.
Thailand has sent refugees from China back home in the past.
In July, authorities in the southwestern Chinese city of Chongqing jailed two rights activists sent home from Thailand as they were awaiting resettlement as political refugees, prompting an international outcry.
Dong Guangping and Jiang Yefei fled with their families to Thailand in 2015, and were granted refugee status by the UNHCR office in Bangkok.
But as they awaited resettlement in a third country, they were handed over to China by the Thai police, in a move that drew strong criticism from the U.N.
Stranded at the airport
Meanwhile, two Chinese refugees who fled the threat of deportation in Thailand to seek political asylum on the democratic island of Taiwan have been landed with a large hotel bill for their stay in the restricted area of its international airport, as they await a decision on their applications.
Yan Kefen (also known as Yan Bojun) and Liu Xinglian were placed in an airside hotel in Taipei’s Taoyuan International Airport last week pending their application.
Now, they are unable to pay a bill of NT$90,000 (just under U.S. $3,000) each, that the hotel is demanding for their rooms.
“The Immigration Department arranged us to be in this place, and they didn’t say at the time that they would be asking us to pay,” Yan told RFA on Thursday.
“[The hotel] said that we have to check out today, and asked each of us to pay … about NT$90,000 each,” he said. “All we can do is move out; we don’t have any money. We offered to write them an IOU but they wouldn’t accept it.”
Liu said staffers at the airline that flew them there have threatened to send them to any city in mainland China, as they were denied entry to Taiwan during a transit en route to mainland China, where they fear further persecution.
“We have been driven out of the hotel, and the airline is still threatening to send us to any city in the mainland,” he said. “I told them that we will never leave or go to the mainland. If we send us to the mainland, we will have to die in the airport.”
Yan Kefen said that he supports Liu Xinglian’s approach, and called on the Taiwan authorities to help.
Officers at the island’s immigration department were unavailable on Thursday when contacted for comment.
Yan Kefen and Liu Xinglian have been stranded at the airport after being refused entry by immigration authorities since last Thursday.
Liu is a founder member and secretary-general of the often-targeted dissident group China Rights Observer, while Yan is a member of the New Citizens’ Movement to hold officials to greater accountability, whose founder Xu Zhiyong served a four-year jail term for his activism.
Sticking to the law
Official sources indicated that Taiwan’s criteria for political asylum usually approve activists who have made a name for themselves in China’s dissident movement.
The Immigration Department said in a statement last week that relevant agencies are sticking to the island’s laws and regulations, while “respecting the claims” of the two asylum seekers.
The island’s Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) said it would “listen to the opinions of the parties, safeguard the safety of both people, actively verify relevant matters and evidence, and make appropriate arrangements according to law and related practices.”
Earlier this year, political refugee Huang Yan also applied for asylum in Taiwan after transiting from Bangkok, but was only granted a temporary visa “for humanitarian reasons” owing to her ill health.
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