Article 18 of the Laws and Regulations Regarding Hong Kong and Macau Affairs (香港澳門關係條例) states: “Necessary assistance shall be provided to Hong Kong or Macau residents whose safety and liberty are immediately threatened for political reasons.”
In Taiwan, with the escalating violence and ongoing protests in Hong Kong, Hong Kong democracy activist and Demosisto Secretary-General Joshua Wong (黃之鋒) published an article last week expressing hope that the Taiwanese government would include Hong Kong demonstrators in Article 18.
He also called on the government to move the draft refugee act through its three readings as soon as possible.
The government has expressed its support for the Hong Kong protest movement, but it has also said that the legislative review process for the draft refugee law is incomplete, with questions lingering over the definition of a refugee and limits on numbers.
If the legislation is passed, it would allow the Chinese government to send spies to Taiwan, passing them off as refugee asylum seekers.
In addition, the government believes there are mechanisms already in place, and so the passage of a refugee law is not a top priority. However, it is far from certain that this is the case.
First, the passage of a refugee law is not only necessary for what is going on in Hong Kong at the moment. There have been many cases of foreign nationals fleeing war or political oppression in their own countries and arriving in Taiwan, or those already in Taiwan who have sought asylum.
In many cases, the government has had to refuse to provide any assistance, as Taiwan does not have a refugee law on its books. This has led to these people becoming displaced.
Second, the draft refugee act has been around since 2005, from its initial proposal in the first Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration, when the draft was first sent to the legislature, to 2008 when it was listed as a legislative priority when the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) returned to power. In 2016, when the second DPP administration took power, the draft law passed out of the review stage with no reserved clauses, requiring no further talks between the respective party caucuses.
In July 2016, during a meeting of the Legislative Yuan’s Internal Administration Committee, many legislators engaged in a substantive debate on the draft refugee law.
The majority recommended that the phrase “suffer oppression based on sexual orientation or gender” not be included in the articles, but written into the legislative comments instead. There were no questions raised over the other definitions of refugee.
In the intervening time, the draft law has not been sent through to a second or third reading. Consequently, any suggestion that the draft refugee law still has many questions simply does not hold water, as it has not been sent for further review by any political party or lawmaker since 2016.
In addition, Taiwan actually receives asylum seekers every year from countries such as China, Hong Kong, Tibet, Syria, Uganda and Turkey, irrespective of whether a refugee law exists.
The authorities are unclear regarding how these cases are to be processed, with different government agencies passing the ball from one to the other, saying that this is the responsibility of the other agency and not being willing to take responsibility themselves.