What next for Hong Kong protesters left in limbo in Taiwan?

Mimi Lau

Most of the young Hong Kong protesters who fled to Taiwan after storming the city’s legislature in July have returned to Hong Kong, with others wondering what their next step in exile will be.

Two Taiwan-based supporters told the South China Morning Post that most of those who left returned to Hong Kong before the start of the academic year while some of those remaining on the island were getting by without official help.

In July, Taiwanese activists said that up to 30 people involved in protests against a now-withdrawn extradition bill had arrived in Taiwan while another 30 were expected to follow. But the lack of refugee legislation on the island meant there was little hope of applicants succeeding in a claim for asylum.

Huang Chun-sheng, head pastor of the Che-Lam Presbyterian Church in Taiwan, began offering accommodation and financial help to fleeing protesters in July, and so far the church is the only one to say publicly that it is offering assistance.

Huang, who met the first group to go to the island, said most of the help given to the protesters was from the island’s community rather than its authorities.

“The [Taiwanese] government did not take real action, most of the help is mobilised by civilians only,” Huang said.

He said that not all of those who left Hong Kong had stormed the city’s Legislative Council and none of the protesters had requested political asylum.

“Quite a number of them were simply looking for a change of environment and went home after feeling better,” Huang said.

Taiwan’s refugee bill does not apply to Hong Kong protesters for now, Taipei says

“Even among the initial group of 30 young people, no one has taken up our financial aid offer so it looks like they are getting plenty of help on their own in Taiwan,” he said, adding that he did not meet the second batch of 30 Hong Kong protesters that reportedly went to Taiwan in July.

“Living with us probably comes with too many obligations so only a small number of them stayed with us briefly. Most have moved on to staying in hostels or Airbnb rooms that offer free or hugely discounted rooms knowing they are Hong Kong protesters.”

The church also organised to send more than 1,000 sets of respiratory equipment to Hong Kong last month.

“We sent most of our supplies to a few Hong Kong NGOs,” Huang said. “But we have now cut it down to just humanitarian help only.”

Protesters storm Hong Kong’s Legislative Council Complex on July 1. Photo: Dickson Lee

Two of the Hong Kong protesters still in Taiwan are 30-year-old Dickson and 24-year-old Lisa. The young Hong Kong couple, who refused to be identified, were among hundreds of masked protesters who stormed and vandalised Legco on July 1.

They fled Hong Kong within days, advised that it was very likely that if arrested they would be charged with rioting, an offence that carries a jail term of up to 10 years.

“We stayed with a church initially but quickly moved into youth hostels. A room for the two of us only costs about NT$200-300 (US$6.40-9.60) a night,” Dickson said.

“I’m not sure what happened to the other Hong Kong protesters as we came independently.”

The couple said they did not receive any help from the Taiwanese authorities because they were not key activists.

“It was not hard to get an extension for a tourist visa. They understood our situation but we are pretty much on our own other than that,” he said.

Dickson said the couple were considering study options in Taiwan but places would not become available until the start of the next semester in early 2020.

The couple had not returned to Hong Kong and had no plan to do so for fear of arrest, they said.

“If I have a choice, I would much rather stand in solidarity with my brothers in Hong Kong but going home is not an option as I would be arrested very quickly – either at the airport or from protesting on the streets,” Dickson said.

As of last week, at least 1,140 protesters – some as young as 12 – have been taken into custody since June. At least 161 of the arrested have been charged with rioting, unlawful assembly or possession of offensive weapons, and of those 149 have been released on bail.

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According to police, 12 people were arrested over the storming of Legco but none have yet been charged.

Dickson said there was nothing much they could do in Taiwan but were continuing to follow events 700km (435 miles) away through online news feeds.

“Watching police fire tear gas and beat up unarmed civilians inside subway stations made my blood curdle. There is nothing I can do but to weep … from here,” Dickson said.

“But if things continue to worsen in Hong Kong, I’m ready to hop on the next flight and fight my last battle with my fellow warriors.”

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