EU Center organizes workshop to promote understanding of refugee issues
The Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees approved in 1951 defines a refugee as "A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it." By the end of 2019, nearly 80 million people around the world had been forced into exile, having to flee their homes due to war or violence.
To help participants better understand refugees' plight, Hu led a role-playing activity in the context of Syria, a country engulfed in a civil war. Each participant received a "Syrian Identity Card" with information on occupation, health, and financial capacity as well as an "Information Card" with different countries' asylum information, such as the success rate of asylum applications in the UK, the conditions under which asylum seekers are allowed to work in Sweden, and Turkey's healthcare for asylum applicants. The participants then exchanged the limited information on information cards with other participants and decided which country to flee to, what things to bring, and decide how many family members could flee with them.
Most participants decided that the right to work was the primary concern when making a decision. Sweden allows asylum seekers who can provide personal identification and proof of asylum application to obtain work permits even before they are officially granted asylum and refugee status. Sweden's policy is relatively friendly to asylum seekers comparing to other countries, such as the UK and Germany, where the right to work is much more regulated. However, Hu pointed out that refugees often flee home in critical situations, and under those circumstances, most people don't think about bringing important documents such as identity documents or diplomas. Most of the participants listed the items they would have taken if they were to flee: money, medication, and cell phones; only a few thought about taking their identity documents. One of Hu's Syrian friends only took a laptop when fleeing his home country. When he arrived in Jordan, he could not continue his education because he did not have any documents to prove his identity or prior education. He may not take up further studies or realize his original career plan anymore.
After the role-playing activity, Hu asked the participants to reflect that if today Taiwan could offer asylum to Syrian refugees, what rights in education, healthcare, or work could the government offer to the refugees? As for education, if Taiwan was to help one thousand Syrian young asylum seekers, should the government allow them to study before their application is processed and their formal refugee status is recognized? Should they be taught according to the Taiwanese curriculum, or should there be a special curriculum designed for the refugees? What would the refugees like to study? Should the asylum-seeking youth study together with the Taiwanese students or in separate classrooms? Hu divided the participants into three groups – the Ministry of Education, the refugees, and the schools. The groups then discussed their perspectives on the education policy and reported their conclusions.
Some groups could not come up with a consensus between members. Some members of the MOE group said that for humanitarian reasons, asylum seekers should be provided with basic educational opportunities before granted refugee status, while others felt that this would be a waste of taxpayers’ money to pay for asylum seekers’ education before they are granted the status, as they might leave Taiwan to seek asylum in other countries. The group discussion helped participants learn about the difficulties and challenges a country may face when accepting refugees, which resulted in even more ideas about the future refugee law in Taiwan.
In the real world, refugees' road to be granted asylum in other countries is fraught with difficulties. The influx of refugees in recent years has also brought unprecedented challenges to many countries, Hu said. This workshop made the participants seriously think about the issue of refugees. The activities were meant to raise participants' awareness of the global refugee crisis, understand refugees' plight, and develop empathy and perspectives on Taiwan's refugee law.
(Edited by Public Affairs Division)