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Chinese dissidents the latest group of asylum seekers

18 April 20160 comments

Chinese dissidents are the latest group of asylum seekers looking for refuge in South East Asian countries.

Fears over the growing reach of Chinese security services on the part of many Chinese activists and a spate of recent disappearances have prompted increasing numbers of politically active Chinese to seek sanctuary elsewhere.

But leaving China doesn’t guarantee safety.

In two recent cases dissidents are believed to have been abducted from Thailand, another from Hong Kong.

Other people linked to a Hong Kong bookstore that sold gossipy titles on the lives of Chinese leaders have also disappeared.

Asylum-seekers in Thailand have become alarmed as the Thai government sent back about 100 asylum-seekers from China’s Turkic Muslim Uighur minority last summer, and repatriated two Chinese dissidents in November.

The Thai Government said they had violated immigration rules but critics point to Thailand’s military-led government as anxious to avoid angering Beijing, its biggest trading partner.

With President Xi Jinping’s more outward looking administration gaining popular domestic support, the communist government is pursuing greater cooperation with police abroad.

One aspect of the campaign popular within China is Beijing’s Skynet operation, which seeks the return of corrupt Chinese officials and others accused of absconding overseas with ill-gotten gains.

Since October 2014, China has seen the return of 124 corruption suspects who had fled to 34 countries, the country’s chief justice told the national legislature this month.

That campaign has had limited success in Australia and the US, neither of which have extradition treaties with China and require evidence that the offences they are accused of by China would also constitute a crime at home.

Beijing has targeted not only corruption suspects but also dissidents who fled China.

Forced repatriations and alleged abductions have particularly rattled Chinese asylum-seekers who have congregated in Thailand, where the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has an office.

Beijing has become so ruthless that it grants us no way out at all,” said one democracy activist who fled to Thailand last year, after Chinese authorities detained him for 35 days for helping other activists with computer and technology issues.

“It won’t let us flee, but stays on our tail to catch us and bring us back to China, where we surely will be met with harsh persecutions and end up in misery,” the dissident told Reuters news agency.

Thailand is home to thousands of asylum-seekers from China and elsewhere, many of whom live under murky legal status. Even those who enter the country legally often overstay their visas.

Thailand has no law managing asylum-seekers fleeing conflict and persecution.
Activists say Thai authorities used to look the other way on Chinese asylum-seekers, but that changed after the May 2014 military coup.

Thai government has said authorities follow the rules when sending illegal immigrants back to their countries of origin.

“If we don’t, Thailand might become a hub for smugglers to transport people to third countries and we wouldn’t want that,” a spokesman said.

A spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Thailand said asylum-seekers are often caught up in routine illegal-immigration crackdowns.

Although the UN office has no control over how Thailand enforces immigration rules, it works with authorities to help asylum-seekers avoid being detained, the spokesperson said.


Laurie Nowell
AMES Australia Senior Journalist