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March 25, 2017

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Refugee draft bill passed

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- The Executive Yuan passed a refugee draft bill Thursday, representing a step closer for Taiwan to efficiently address the "human ping-pong ball" issue and other related matters.

It also passed an amendment to Article 17 of the Statute Governing the Relations Between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area.

The draft bill and the amendment will create a legal basis for the government to handle the refugee issue and possibly allow asylum-seekers from abroad to stay in Taiwan legally and rebuild their lives and careers.

The bill and amendment, which still need to be referred to the Legislative Yuan to be voted into law, would allow foreign nationals or stateless individuals whose lives were under threat due to wars or natural disasters or who were persecuted for political reasons, to apply for refugee status with the Taiwan authorities, according to the Ministry of the Interior (MOI).

In the event of applications for asylum, an official said, the MOI will contact the relevant United Nations agencies for assistance to verify the refugee status and will make a decision on the case within six months, with a possible extension of a further six months, he added.

"During the one-year application period, the applicant will be granted a permit to stay in Taiwan, along with free legal consultation services and basic medical care and accommodation, " the official said.

Should a mass number of people apply for refugee status in Taiwan, the MOI will impose a quota on the applications and will contact the U.N. for consultation and assistance, the official said.

Once the applicant obtains refugee status, he or she will be issued with a refugee ID that can be used to apply for permanent residence, travel documents and eventually naturalization, he continued.

At present, most refugees seeking asylum in Taiwan are from Tibet or are descendants of the remnants of a Kuomintang (KMT) force that was stranded in northern Thailand while trying to follow the KMT to Taiwan at the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949.

Apart from these refugees, two Chinese pro-democracy activists -- Cai Lujun and Wu Yalin -- have also sought sanctuary in Taiwan.

Cai sneaked into Taiwan last year and was held for six months at the Hsinchu detention center for illegal Chinese immigrants, while Wu sought political asylum after he arrived in Taiwan last year as a tourist. Both of them have since obtained temporary resident status.

The two men came under the media spotlight last September when they scaled the wall of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) compound to ask for political asylum in the United States.

As Taiwan does not have a political refugee or asylum law, the government has not been able to grant political asylum to the two Chinese political activists, but they have been allowed to remain in Taiwan temporarily based on humanitarian considerations, according to the Cabinet-level Mainland Affairs Council (MAC).

The MAC provides them with a monthly stipend of between NT$10,000 and NT$20,000 to help with their living expenses because they are not allowed to work in Taiwan, an MAC official went on, adding that this will continue to be a financial burden on the agency.

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