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Members of the Shenzhen Holy Reformed Church, also known as the Mayflower Church, leave from the Nongprue police station on their way to Pattaya Provincial Court in Pattaya, Thailand, March 31, 2023. © 2023 AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit

Impact update: The Christian Chinese asylum seekers detained in Thailand will be allowed to migrate to the United States. 

On April 5, 2023, the Deputy National Police Chief of Thailand, the Immigration Bureau, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), and the US Embassy convened a high-level meeting in Bangkok, to discuss resettlement options for the Christian Chinese asylum seekers. Following the meeting, of the 63 detainees, 59 have boarded a flight to the United States. The remaining four families will migrate to the United States once their children are born. The Chinese government has not commented on or challenged this decision.

(New York) – 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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