This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
A dissident couple who fled China four years ago over fears of alleged political reprisals will be resettled in Canada from Thailand in the coming months, a lawyer said Tuesday.
Last year, Thai authorities arrested the couple and charged them with immigration violations, although U.N. agency UNHCR gave them refugee status the previous year.
Wu Yuhua and her husband, Yang Chong, arrived in the Southeast Asian country in February 2015, claiming Chinese police were targeting them because they had joined press freedom protests in southern Guangzhou city in 2013.
UNHCR recently informed Wu Yuhua that she and her husband were cleared for Canadian resettlement, attorney Warissara Rungthong told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.
“It is apparent that they may be able to fly to Canada soon, expectedly in March,” said Warissara, a lawyer with the People Serving People foundation. “There are sponsors in Canada who helped them out.”
After receiving their refugee status in 2017, the couple started looking for resettlement in a third country, their lawyer said.
“I feel very happy when I heard that we could move to Canada,” Yang Chong said in a text message to BenarNews. “Lately, I’m in a good health but my wife is having some stress.”
Thai authorities arrested the couple in August 2018, along with another Chinese national, outside the New Zealand Embassy in Bangkok, while they were applying for asylum.
They were locked up in an immigration detention center in Bangkok. In December, a court acquitted Wu of charges that she entered the Buddhist-majority country without proper documents.
Meanwhile, Yang was tried and found guilty in November of staying in Thailand after his visa had expired. He was sentenced to six months and a fine of 10,000 baht (U.S. $303).
But he was allowed to walk free on a one-year probation because he had no criminal record, court officials said.
Others sent back
Thailand has a record of sending refugees from China back home.
In July 2018, authorities in southwestern China’s Chongqing city sent rights activist Dong Guangping and political cartoonist Jiang Yefei to prison after they were repatriated from Thailand, where they were awaiting resettlement as political refugees.
Amnesty International said Dong was just five days away from freedom and was set to leave Thailand to start a new life with his wife and daughter in Canada when Thai authorities forcibly returned him to China in November 2015.
He has since been detained without trial, Amnesty said in a statement in April last year.
Jiang, who was also granted refugee status by the UNHCR in Bangkok, was preparing to move to Canada, too, at the time of his arrest.
A court in Chongqing tried him in secret after he was sent back from Thailand in 2015, sentencing him to six and a half years in jail for “inciting subversion of state power,” and “illegally crossing a national border,” according to the Hong Kong Free Press.
“Thailand is failing to protect people at risk of serious human rights violations once returned to the countries they left,” Amnesty said.
In the last four years, the Thai government has forcibly returned more than 100 political refugees to China, Cambodia, and Bahrain, according to estimates from the London-based rights watchdog.