Human rights advocates from across Asia continue calls for refugee legislation in Taiwan
Taipei, 26 October 2017, 12.00: This week a delegation of refugee experts, lawyers and civil society activists from across Asia convened in the Republic of China (Taiwan) to provide further support for Taiwan to pass their pending draft refugee legislation. Building upon previous initiatives by the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN) and the Taiwan Association for Human Rights (TAHR) to develop of a comprehensive refugee protection system in Taiwan, a series of events took place with judges, legislators, lawyers and the National Immigration Agency.
Official data shows that the number of people claiming asylum annually in Taiwan is minimal, however testimony from those working on refugee issues suggest it very much remains a problematic issue. According to the Taiwan Association for Human Rights, a locally based non-governmental organization that has been working for refugees for more than fifteen years, in 2017 alone there have been more than 10 cases of refugees claiming international protection. Eeling Chiu, TAHR’s Secretary General, noted that they “have seen a number of cases this year where the National Immigration Agency seemed at a loss of how to progress the claim. Without passing a law, Taiwan is simply using a Band-Aid to cure a broken bone, an approach which is profoundly flawed.” In addition, Allan Mackey from the International Association of Refugee Law Judges (IARLJ) also noted that “Taiwan is a highly progressive society when it comes to human rights and it has the potential to be a model not only in East Asia, but also the world.”
On 26 October, the international delegation met with the Vice-President of the Taiwanese Legislative Yuan and members of parliament. Open and frank discussions on refugee protection were had, including an in-depth dialogue on ethical practices in Refugee Status Determination processes. Complementing the meeting with government representatives, a series of training are also slated for 27–28 October 2017 to build capacity for successful implementation of the refugee law.
In addition to bilateral meetings and trainings, an East Asia Refugee Forum, hosted by the Human Rights Program at Soochow University was also held to raise public awareness of refugee issues in East Asia. Mr Yiombi Thona, a refugee currently residing in South Korea shared his experiences and his recommendations towards the Taiwanese Government during the forum. “I arrived in Korea where I was given no help, no support and no assistance. However, over the 17 years I have been in Korea, I have seen a significant shift in the way the Korean Government approaches refugee issues. As another leading nation in the region, Taiwan must also begin to take the steps needed to share responsibility in the region.”
A key message brought forward by the delegation throughout the trip was the need for the government to engage with civil society and other stakeholders in its efforts to build a legal framework in line with international norms and best practices. Furthermore it encouraged the government to take a proactive approach in a number of different areas including legal aid, interpretation and translation services and humanitarian support provision.
Evan Jones, Programme Coordinator at the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network said “the proactive engagement by the Taiwanese government to engage in constructive dialogue on the draft refugee law should be acknowledged. However, since earlier this year, we have not seen any progress. The government must advance this process and commit to effective implementation, once the law has passed. It is imperative that there be a shift globally towards collectively sharing in the responsibility of protecting people who have fled their countries.”
Notes to the editor:
This week the government of the Republic of China hosted a delegation from the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network to discuss the pending draft refugee legislation and the preconditions for successful implementation. The international delegates who travelled to Taipei are all members of the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network and each brings with them an expertise in refugee legal aid, advocacy, government engagement and service provision.
In July 2016, the Taiwanese Legislative Yuan passed the first of three readings of Taiwan’s draft refugee legislation. This positive move is welcomed by civil society and is seen as a strong example of Taiwan’s positive and important role in the region. As a non-member state of the United Nations, Taiwan is unable to ratify the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol, but there is nothing stopping Taiwan from implementing the Refugee Convention and Protocol the same way it has the ICCPR, ICESCR, CRC, CRPD and CEDAW.
The Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network is a vibrant network of over 300 civil society organisations and individuals from 28 countries in the Asia Pacific region committed to advancing the rights of refugees, through joint advocacy, capacity-strengthening, resource sharing and outreach.