Thailand Must Not Repatriate Chinese Asylum Seekers

Human Rights Watch

The government of Thailand should ensure that 63 recently detained Christian Chinese asylum seekers are not returned to China, where they face persecution, torture, and other serious harm, Human Rights Watch said today.

On March 30, 2023, Thai authorities arrested 28 adults and 35 children who are members of the persecuted Shenzhen Holy Reformed Church – also called the Mayflower Church – in the coastal city of Pattaya for visa overstays. These asylum seekers came to Thailand in 2022 to escape persecution by Chinese authorities. They cannot get their visas renewed because Thailand’s immigration regulations require Chinese nationals to report to the Chinese Embassy first.

“In China under President Xi Jinping, leaders and members of ‘house churches’ that refuse to join official churches increasingly face harassment, arbitrary arrests, and imprisonment,” said Elaine Pearson, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Thai authorities need to recognize the grave dangers facing Christians back in China and under no circumstances force them to return.”

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, should have unimpeded access to asylum seekers to assess their refugee status and help ensure that no one is deported to a place where their lives or freedom are threatened, under the customary international law principle of nonrefoulement, Human Rights Watch said. The Thai government of Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha has a long record of collaborating with Chinese authorities to harass, detain, and forcibly return exiled members of political, religious, and ethnic groups – as well as human rights activists and journalists – who fled to Thailand to escape persecution.

Under customary international law, Thailand is obligated to ensure that no one is forcibly sent to a place where they would face a real risk of persecution, torture or other ill-treatment, or a threat to life. Thailand has incorporated international human rights law – notably the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance – into its newly enacted Act on Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearance. The act prohibits actions to expel or extradite a person to another country where there are substantial grounds for believing that they would be in danger of being tortured or forcibly disappeared.

“If Thailand determines that the 63 Christian Chinese cannot stay, then they should be permitted to seek protection in another country,” Pearson said. “Rights-respecting governments should urgently step up to express their willingness to receive these asylum seekers at risk.”

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