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UN reaches out to Chinese Christians stranded in South Korea

Despite UN assistance, 60 Chinese Christians still live in fear of repatriation from Jeju island, says pastor
UN reaches out to Chinese Christians stranded in South Korea

Members of Shenzhen Holy Reformed Church worship on Jeju island in South Korea. (Photo: Pastor Pan Yongguang)

Published: February 15, 2022 07:24 AM GMT
Updated: February 17, 2022 02:42 AM GMT

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has reached out to support 60 Christians who fled to South Korea from China to avoid persecution and are now in limbo after the courts rejected their asylum applications.

The members of Shenzhen Holy Reformed Church, also known as Mayflower Church, moved to Jeju island, a popular tourist spot in South Korea, in 2019 to escape harassment by Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials in Shenzhen city. They migrated to Jeju as it offers visa-free access for Chinese citizens.  

The 29 adults and 31 children had their asylum applications rejected in January, according to China Aid, a group led by Chinese exiles documenting human rights abuses and promoting religious freedom in China.

The Christians have to reapply for asylum under the complex immigration process in South Korea, said Pastor Pan Yongguang, who added that the group has been living in fear of forcible repatriation if their applications are rejected again.

Pastor Pan told Radio Taiwan International that South Korea office of the UNHCR contacted him on Feb. 7, provided contact information of a lawyer to assist in asylum process and contacted local charity groups to donate food and winter clothes for the community. The agency also helped two pregnant women to get medical insurance under foreigners’ assistance program.

Pan said the group is grateful to UNHCR for the assistance but they continue to live in fear of repatriation.

While the Christians struggle with language barriers and lack of education for their children, they have been forced to do odd jobs like picking tangerines to make ends meet amid a lack of substantial assistance on Jeju.   

Established in 2012, Shenzhen Holy Reformed Church has a large church building and a school to provide Christian education to children.

I have been charged with subversion of state power, colluding with anti-China foreign forces and human trafficking

Church members have faced pressure since 2018 when the CCP adopted new regulations on religious affairs. It triggered a crackdown on religious groups and institutes run by these groups in China.

Pastor Pan said police officers raided the church and the school, ordering them to shut them down on several occasions.

The pastor and other members faced renewed threats after Pastor Pan co-signed a letter protesting the CCP’s new regulations on religions, including a repressive education policy and anti-religious propaganda.

Pastor Pan said he would face multiple charges if his asylum application is rejected again and he is forcibly repatriated to China 

"I have been charged with subversion of state power, colluding with anti-China foreign forces and human trafficking," Pastor Pan said. "That's because I took these believers out of China, so now I'm suspected of trafficking or smuggling them."

Earlier, church members also applied for asylum in the United States through the UNHCR. However, the agency said it is unable to process their application from their office in Seoul.

Bob Fu, president of China Aid, alleged that South Korea is wary of China, so it seeks to avoid any conflict with Beijing over the asylum seekers.

"Only 0.4 percent of asylum applications from Chinese nationals have been successful in the past. South Korea is effectively being held hostage by the CCP," he said.

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