Taiwan’s Dilemma in Accepting Asylum-Seekers from Hong Kong

Fifty-one-year-old Kacey Wong is a contemporary visual artist. He was also a pro-democracy activist in Hong Kong. In the past decade, his protest art has appeared in many anti-government demonstrations.

Wong says after China imposed a draconian national security law on the former British colony last July, Hong Kong became shrouded in fear. He checked social media every morning to see if friends had been arrested overnight.

After finding himself on a list of cultural undesirables in a pro-Beijing newspaper, Wong accelerated his escape to Taiwan.

“I have to leave Hong Kong in order to have an independent voice,” he said. “Nobody wants to live in a city that constantly provides fear.”

Data from Taiwan’s National Immigration Agency show that the number of Hong Kongers relocating to Taiwan is on the rise.

In 2020, the figure almost doubled from the year before to more than 10,000 people, a record. And in the first seven months of 2021, more than 5,000 Hong Kongers arrived in Taiwan.

Lo Chih-cheng, a legislator with Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party, says there are enough mechanisms in place to help those fleeing Hong Kong on a case-by-case basis.

Lo says passing an asylum law would be a national security risk because it would open up the island’s borders to passport holders from around the world, including those from China.

“When it comes to the people from mainland China, I think it’s more complicated and more sensitive, because it is very likely that there could be spies pretending to be refugees and wanting to come to Taiwan,” said Lo.

But human rights groups say the current policies make it too difficult for Hong Kongers to obtain permanent residency, especially those eligible for work permits. They say without an asylum law, the island’s policy toward Hong Kong and China could easily shift, depending on which political party is in power.

“The DPP government has shown goodwill toward these Hong Kongers, but will the future government follow suit in lieu of an asylum law?” said Taiwan Association of Human Right’s Wang Si. “Therefore, we think that a refugee law is important in institutionalizing a permanent asylum framework.”

Observers say Taipei lacks a law for refugees and asylum-seekers because it is afraid of provoking Beijing.

“The law will apply to none but foreigners, yet the idea of listing people from Hong Kong, Macau and China as foreigners will largely offend China,” said Jacob Lin, a human rights lawyer in Taipei. “This has become a highly controversial political taboo.”

Lin says Taiwan seldom denies entry to asylum seekers unless national security risks are present or the legal ground is weak. Taiwan is moving to relax restrictions for high school students from Hong Kong and Macau seeking to study in Taiwan, beginning in September 2022 – a way to help teenage exiles.

“I have to leave Hong Kong in order to have an independent voice. Nobody wants to live in a city that constantly provides fear.”

Kacey Wong, Hong Konger in Taiwan


WRITER, PRODUCER: Joyce HuangVIDEOGRAPHER: Laurence Lo, Joyce Huang Post-production coordinator: Marcus Harton

About this series

From 2010-2020, U.N. Refugee Agency reported a consistent increase in the number of asylum-seekers from China totaling more than 630,000 people. Separately, the number of asylum-seekers from Hong Kong jumped dramatically, from 22 in 2018 to a record 487 people in 2020, despite the coronavirus pandemic. Asylum-seekers are just one part of the China exodus story, as people from China and Hong Kong emigrate in other ways, as well. This project examines why people left and where they have resettled.