Taiwan gears up for possible influx of people fleeing from Hong Kong


In anticipation of an influx of people fleeing Hong Kong as Beijing tighten its grip on the city-state, Taiwan is laying the welcome mat for those fleeing oppression, notwithstanding that it has little experience in handling refugees.

The democratic island also has to keep an eye out for anyone who enters who could be spying for China.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has pledged last month to help Hong Kong people who leave due to what they see as tightening Chinese controls, including newly introduced national security legislation, smothering their democratic aspirations.

China denies stifling Hong Kong’s freedoms and has condemned Ms. Tsai’s offer.

Taiwan, just as wary of the mainland as many in the former British colony of Hong Kong are, is working on a humanitarian relief plan for the expected arrivals, officials say.

“Hong Kong no doubt is a priority for Tsai,” a senior government official familiar with the president’s thinking told Reuters, adding that the administration was setting aside resources to handle Hong Kong people.

The plan would include a monthly allowance for living and rent and shelter for those unable to find accommodation, said a second person with direct knowledge of the preparations.

It is too early to gauge how many might come but Taiwan does not expect the number to be more than the thousands of people who came from Vietnam from the mid-1970s, most fleeing the communist takeover of what had been US-backed South Vietnam.

Nearly 200 Hong Kong people have fled to Taiwan since protests flared last year and about 10 per cent have been granted visas under a law that protects Hong Kong people who are at risk for political reasons, said Mr. Shih Yi-hsiang of the Taiwan Association for Human Rights.

For now, anyone thinking of making the move has to wait as Taiwan has barred Hong Kong people as part of its effort to block COVID-19, but Mr. Shih expects the number to jump once the ban is lifted.

With little experience of refugees since the 1970s and with worries that China could plant spies posing as activists, the government was urgently looking for experts to vet backgrounds, the second source said.

“This is a very complicated scenario that Taiwan government has never dealt with,” said the source who declined to be identified as the information about plans has not been made public.

“We didn’t think such things would happen in Hong Kong even in our dreams.” China’s Taiwan Affairs Office did not respond to a request for comment.

A Taiwan government panel including security officials would scrutinise applications and issue visas allowing Hong Kong people to study or work in Taiwan, the second source said.

Mr. Shih said the government also needed experts in areas from case management to counselling.

A senior Taipei-based Western diplomat said Taiwan was most likely to get the most radical protesters and the less well-off, as those with the means would probably choose to go to countries such as Canada or Britain. (Source: The Straits Times)