Members of an entire Church congregation who fled religious persecution in China have filed applications for asylum in the United States through the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR in the Thai capital Bangkok, says a Christian rights group.
Some 60 members of the Shenzhen Holy Reformed Church, also known as Shenzhen Mayflower Church, traveled to Thailand on tourist visas last week after failing to get refugee status in South Korea, US-based International Christian Concern (ICC) reported on Sept. 9.
The Christian group includes 29 adults and 31 children who fled China between late 2019 and early 2020 and settled on Jeju Island in South Korea. They opted for resettlement in the US reportedly after multiple courts in South Korea rejected their asylum applications.
The ICC report said the organization’s regional manager Gina Goh has been with the congregation in Bangkok and assisted them with the logistics. She accompanied the church members as they applied for asylum in the US.
Goh alleged the church members were under “Chinese surveillance” in Bangkok.
“Please continue to pray for the Shenzhen Holy Reformed Church, as they are constantly under surveillance here in Bangkok by Chinese operatives. Given that it could take a while for the process to be completed, their safety is a grave concern,” she said.
The congregation's pastor, Pan Yongguang, said members had no option but to travel to Thailand.
“This is dangerous but it is an opportunity,” he said. “If we had stayed in Jeju, we would have had no chance.”
He expressed concerns that the members are on 15-day tourist visas in Thailand, and if their visas run out and are not extended, they fear they might be deported back to China.
Shenzhen Holy Reformed Church was established in 2012. It has a large church building and a school to provide Christian education to children of the church members.
The members have come under pressure since 2018 when the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) adopted new regulations on religious affairs, which triggered a crackdown on religious groups and institutes run by these groups.
The church particularly came under fire after Pastor Pan co-signed a letter protesting against the regulations that also criticized the CCP’s repressive education policy and anti-religious propaganda.
In the aftermath, Pastor Pan said, police raided the church and the school on several occasions, ordering their closure.
Pastor Pan also claimed that he faces multiple charges in China including subversion of state power, colluding with anti-China foreign forces, and human trafficking.
He said that he is facing trafficking or smuggling charges “because I took these believers out of China."
UK-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) earlier issued a statement calling for the freedom and safety of the Christian group.
The church members “must be protected from forcible repatriation to China, where they face grave threats to their personal safety and freedom and offered asylum in a country where their right to freedom of religion or belief is protected in line with international standards set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [Article 18],” it said.