After fleeing Communist persecution three years ago, sixty-four members of China's Shenzhen Reformed Holy Church, also known as the Mayflower Church, remain in hiding in Thailand. They fear capture as they await news of their asylum claims.
An assessment by U.S-based persecution charity China Aid Association of the threats they face has been seen by Premier Christian News. Produced following a visit in February of U.S pastors to Thailand, the reports says church members face kidnap, forced repatriation to China and are experiencing suspicious activity around their hidden location.
“Leaving them in limbo is cruel and dangerous”, commented crossbench peer and advocate for the Mayflower Church, Lord Alton of Liverpool, who met Taiwanese diplomats on Thursday with the aim of mediating a temporary solution.
The church group await news of hopes for permanent settlement in North America, but both the United Nations route to safety and processes in the United States take time, which church members fear they haven’t got. Speaking to Premier, David Alton said:
“Refugees fleeing intensified religious persecution by the Chinese Communist Party should be given accelerated resettlement in other countries by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees.
“What actually happens is that families with young children end up in transit situations without visas or protection. So having fled a tyrannical State that openly persecutes people of faith they face mortal dangers.”
Mayflower Church’s journey began three years ago, when the church fled persecution by Beijing’s repressive Communist government. But hopes for political asylum were denied by South Korea, their first port of call.
Since 2018 and the introduction of repressive new religion regulations in China, it has been illegal for under-18s to go to church – and Mayflower Church has 34 children in their group.
According to international religious freedom organization Open Doors, the regulations require Chinese pastors to attend their local police station to report on church activities. They say landlords have been pressured to terminate rental contracts with house churches and Chinese churches have been raided and shut, with Bibles confiscated and interiors defaced.
Family members of the church who remained in China have seen a dramatic increase in the harassment and interrogations by Chinese police. The questioning often focused on asking the asylum seekers to return to China, telling them not to collaborate with overseas groups, and that the U.S. will not help them.
In Washington, Christian politicians in Congress have been seeking a diplomatic response to the plight of the Mayflower Church and the dangers they are facing. Last week, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul urged US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to secure settlement for the church in America.
In Taipei, Speaker You of the Taiwanese Parliament has also intervened this week to urge a review of the Mayflower Church’s request for temporary safety, whilst their claim in America is being assessed.
On January 18, the annual World Watch List released by Open Doors ranked China as one of the worst persecutors of Christianity for the third year in a row.