Tong Yali

Tong Yali
Photo: Tong Yali

What does the term refugee mean to you?

For me, the term refugees implies those people who no longer have shelter and a home in their own countries and need protection abroad because there is war in their home country or because they are politically persecuted.

Is flight from poverty less legitimate than flight from war or political oppression?

No. I believe that flight from poverty is as legitimate as flight from war or political oppression. Every person in the world has the right to secure his or her existence.

And what about flight as a result of environmental problems?

Flight from ecological problems also plays an important role nowadays. This indicates that when the ecological situation of a place is threatened and the health of its inhabitants is in danger, the inhabitants of this place must be accommodated elsewhere, or the authorities must establish a suitable settlement for them.

When does one cease to be a refugee?

On the day when inner peace will reign in each and every human being and people will be able to both live together in harmony and support each other selflessly.

Is there a natural right to asylum?

I believe people have the principal right to asylum if their lives are threatened by war, poverty or ecological problems and the state is no longer able to protect them. I personally have currently no right to asylum. Because I am protected by my country, and until now there has been no war. In addition, Taiwan is considered to be a democratic country where nobody is allowed to be politically persecuted.

If yes: is this right unconditional, or can it be forfeited?

According to my opinion, the right to asylum applies under certain circumstances, depending on the law of each country. I think if an asylum seeker is convicted of a crime in his guest country then he should forfeit his right to asylum.

Do you think that the number of refugees a society can absorb is limited?

I believe that refugees in our world should be properly distributed, meaning that all countries around the world should accept part of the refugees. If all countries are affected, an upper limit for refugees will be out of the question. In reality, we see that the refugees prefer going to those countries that offer more social benefits; for this reason, many other countries are not attractive to refugees, and accordingly, less applications for asylum are submitted there.

If yes: where do you draw the line, and why?

Since most refugees are searching for a safe place, especially Germany takes the first place and is the most recurrent destination. The numbers of refugees in Germany and in Turkey have reached a new historical record which put a heavy burden on both countries. According to my opinion, the EU countries should make a good decision and determine a common upper limit so that all refugees will get shelter and are taken into consideration; at the same time, the lifestyle of the population of the guest country should be warranted.

Are there privileged refugees in your country, i.e. refugees that are more welcome than others? If yes: why?

In Taiwan, a number of political refugees from mainland China were accepted during the last decades thanks to a special permit, such as exiled Tibetans for example and those who are politically persecuted, because asylum procedures have not yet entered into force. Due to the ambivalent relationship with China, they are considered privileged refugees.

Do refugees in your country receive fair treatment?

Taiwan has no asylum law yet and for this reason refugees have not yet become conspicuous with us. The current international refugee crisis is hardly felt on the island of Taiwan. In spite of this, there were individual refugees from Tibet or mainland China in recent years that came to Taiwan - some of them were able to remain thanks to special forms of residence acquired through marriage or work for example. I cannot yet assess whether refugees are treated justly.

Would cuts in the social security system in your country be acceptable to you if they were to facilitate the absorption of more refugees?

There are many countries in the world which would be actually capable of accommodating refugees. As part of the world, each country should make a contribution in regard to this issue. I believe that the Taiwanese need more contact with the outer world and should become more involved in order to improve the refugee crisis. I would be pleased if our government would accept more refugees.

What are the requirements for successful integration?

- on the part of the refugees?
- on the part of the citizens of the host country?

Successful integration requires cooperation on both sides – for those who arrive and those who accept them alike. In Taiwan, where the population is predominantly Buddhist, there are already some churches or mosques for those who arrive or for travellers with other religions. The many guest workers or foreign spouses who originate from the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand or Indonesia, bring their religions and life styles with them. For example, Taiwan’s culinary culture, which is very varied to begin with, has already been enriched by this. Both sides should each accept the other’s culture but also learn from each other. For the Islamic population and travellers in Taiwan, the government staged activities for the feast of fast-breaking at the beginning of July 2016 in which the mayor of Taipeh, Ko Wen-je, also took part. Currently, there are more and more restaurants in Taiwan who are Muslim-friendly. This demonstrates Taiwan’s hospitality and for this reason successful integration can be expected.

Do you know any refugees personally?

There are refugees I personally know but only abroad.

Do you actively support any refugees?

I have signed a number of declations in Berlin and was present at some campaigns at the university. I have met a number of refugees in my dormitory. But it would have taken more time in order to build a closer friendship.

How will the refugee situation in your country develop

a) over the next two years?

A draft for an asylum law had already been prepared in 2005, but only af`ter the change of government in May 2016 the legislative process was started within two months. This means that in the foreseeable future asylum seekers will be able to submit applications for asylum to the Taiwanese government if the law will be approved after its third reading. But it is still uncertain whether a clear effect would be observed in the next two years.

b) over the next two decades?

In the coming two decades immigration is foreseeable and one could be able to see true variety and multiculturalism in Taiwan. Already today the Southeast Asian population in Taiwan has a pronounced share: every fourth new-born has one foreign parent. The number of migrants in Taiwan amounts to half a million while the total population reaches 20 million – the percentage lies at 2.5%. In the future, there will possibly be new faces from the Middle East to be seen in Taiwan.

Can you imagine a world without refugees?

No. There have always been refugees in mankind’s history. There is, after all, a split between the industrialized countries and the developing countries which makes mutual understanding and solidarity difficult. Nevertheless many people in a few countries live in a world without refugees such as Saudi Arabia for example. This is something one should change.

Have you or your family ever been refugee?

I actually consider Germany to be my refuge although I am not a refugee. I “fled” to Berlin in 2008 – from oppression by my family. Now, the patriarchate in my family has been slowly dissolving, due to my father’s death and the modernization of society. As a woman, I am aware of the freedom and justice in Germany and appreciate their value; this cannot be compared to conditions in Taiwan.

Do you think you will ever be a one?

- If yes: why?

Yes, this is possible. Because of the question of independence, Taiwan is always under the threat of thousands of Chinese rockets. Although many are of the opinion that war between Taiwan and China is almost impossible, one has to take note nevertheless that Taiwan’s international situation has still not been clarified and that those rockets are still functional.

- How do you prepare yourself?

I personally do not prepare for this.

- To which country would you take refuge to?

If one day something will happen then it will be fate. Under such circumstances I would of course flee to Germany because I have been involved for over 20 years with Germany and I have written my doctoral thesis there. Germany and its culture are indeed a part of me.

How much “home” do you need?*

Taiwan is my motherland, the country where I was born. China and its culture is the fatherland of my forebears 250 years ago. Germany then is my inner homeland, and my heart and thoughts are always there.

*This question was taken from Max Frisch’s questionnaire concerning “heimat”.