Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has acknowledged for the first time claims that Hong Kong protesters are fleeing to the self-ruled island and said it would consider any applications to seek shelter there on humanitarian grounds.
Tsai was speaking after media reports suggested that at least a dozen and as many as 60 protesters had arrived in Taiwan or were planning to seek shelter there, following protests and violent clashes in Hong Kong over the city’s extradition bill.
“I believe relevant departments are keeping abreast of the situation,” Tsai was quoted as saying by Taiwan’s Central News Agency in a media briefing in Saint Lucia on day two of her tour of the Caribbean.
“These friends from Hong Kong will be treated in an appropriate way on humanitarian grounds.”
Radio Free Asia reported on Thursday that about 10 Hong Kong protesters had arrived in Taiwan. Apple Daily said about 30 had arrived on the island and 30 more were planning to follow.
Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council played down the reports on Thursday. Without saying whether it was in contact with alleged protesters or how many were in Taiwan, the council said that if Taiwan received applications from Hong Kong residents for political asylum, government agencies would handle them according to the law, based on the principle of protecting human rights and regulations regarding Hong Kong and Macau affairs.
It said it would provide necessary assistance to Hong Kong citizens whose safety and freedom were threatened by political factors.
An unnamed Taiwan lawyer who helps Hong Kong residents arriving in Taiwan told Radio Free Asia the protesters had encountered technical difficulties in seeking to extend their stay.
Protests and violent clashes have been ongoing in Hong Kong since early June. The Hong Kong government has said the extradition bill – which would allow the transfer of criminal suspects to jurisdictions the city does not have an extradition deal with, including mainland China – is “dead”, but protesters have demanded its formal withdrawal and an independent investigation into the use of force by Hong Kong police.
On Thursday, the European Parliament voted to adopt a resolution calling for the formal withdrawal of the bill. Beijing said the motion represented “ignorance and prejudice”.
A pro-establishment “Safeguard Hong Kong” rally will be staged on Saturday to condemn violence and support police, a day before another massive march against the city’s embattled government.
Taiwan’s Act Governing Relations with Hong Kong and Macau says necessary assistance shall be provided to Hong Kong or Macau residents whose safety and liberty are immediately threatened for political reasons.
The Taiwan Association for Human Rights, an independent non-governmental organisation, said it had not received any inquiries from Hongkongers who said they had taken part in the protests. It said potential asylum seekers in Taiwan faced an uncertain application process.
The island is not a party to the United Nations’ Refugee Convention – which outlines the rights of those who are granted asylum and the responsibilities of nations granting asylum – and does not have its own legislation on refugees.
“When people want to apply for asylum, they would not know if their conditions qualify or how the government would assess their case,” Wang Si, a legal specialist with the association, said.
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