Thai officials say Chinese church members soon to be expelled | Religion news


Members of the Shenzhen Holy Reformed Church say they have experienced intolerable harassment in China and have sought asylum in the United States.

More than 60 self-exiled members of a Chinese Christian church who were detained in Thailand after being granted refugee status by the UN will be deported next week, likely to a third country, according to officials.

National Police Deputy Chief Surachate Hakparn said on Wednesday that representatives from Thailand’s Foreign Ministry and Immigration Bureau held talks with the UN Refugee Agency and the US Embassy to discuss the fate of the 63 members of the Shenzhen Holy Reformed Church who went to court in the coastal city of Pattaya last Friday.

“Within the next week they will certainly be evicted. What we don’t know is which country they will be deported to,” Surachate told The Associated Press.

Members of the church, also known as the Mayflower Church, were granted refugee status by the UN agency after arriving in Thailand last year. They say they faced intolerable harassment in China and sought asylum in the United States.

Before arriving in Thailand, Church members fled to South Korea’s Jeju Island in October 2019 and remained there for nearly three years, but decided to leave when prospects for refuge there became dim.

An immigration officer who was aware of Wednesday’s multi-agency talks said Thai authorities would “find a way” to send the church members to a third country.

“The Immigration Office will continue to look after them on humanitarian grounds in the meantime,” said the official, who spoke on the condition that he would not be identified as he is not authorized to speak to the media.

Members of Shenzhen Holy Reformed Church, also known as Mayflower Church, depart from Nongprue Police Station on their way to Pattaya Provincial Court in Pattaya, Thailand, Friday, March 31, 2023 [Sakchai Lalit/AP Photo]

The church members expected to be released after being arrested and fined for overstaying their visas last week. Instead, they were bussed from Pattaya to a police detention center in Bangkok for what a police officer said was standard processing.

Surachate said the church members had been separated and “the mothers and children” — about half of the group — had been sent to the immigration office’s care home in northern Bangkok. He said the others were being held at the agency’s main detention center in central Bangkok.

While the group was being driven to Bangkok, Church members temporarily stopped the buses when they suspected they were on their way to Bangkok International Airport for repatriation to China, where they feared persecution.

‘Major dangers’

Human Rights Watch issued a statement on Saturday urging the Thai government not to expel the group because of “the grave dangers facing Christians in China.”

In its annual report last year, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said the Chinese Communist Party requires religious groups to support its rule and political objectives, including by aligning their religious teachings with the party’s ideology and policies. . “Both registered and unregistered religious groups and individuals who come into contact with the CCP face harassment, detention, arrest, detention and other abuse,” the commission said.

Surachate said the church members had overstayed their visas by about half a year when police found them. He said they were arrested over a recent crackdown following growing reports of crimes involving Chinese citizens.

He said Thailand has a principle of not allowing people seeking refuge to stay in the country. Thailand has not ratified the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and has no law regarding refugee status.

“Basically, we don’t let them stay in Thailand, otherwise people from all over the world would come to Thailand,” Surachate said. “You see, they were in South Korea for years and didn’t get the UNHCR paper. They did so within just four months of arriving here.”

Thailand has regularly provided shelter to people fleeing war from neighboring countries.

However, not everyone is tolerated. In 2015, Thailand deported 109 members of the Uyghur Muslim minority back to China against their will, despite fears they would face official persecution and possible torture.

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