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USA News

Church congregation flees persecution, now seeking protection from UN

by Alex Collett

A congregation of Christians who left Shenzhen in China to seek asylum in South Korea have now travelled to Thailand to ask the United Nations refugee agency for protection from religious persecution. 

According to the church's pastor Pan Yongguang, roughly 60 members of the Shenzhen Holy Reformed Church were scheduled to visit the UN refugee agency's office in Thailand's capital of Bangkok to submit applications for refugee status.

Rights activists have said the church's departure more than two and a half years ago is a rare instance of a congregation seeking asylum en masse, and a marker of how Chinese leader Xi Jinping has curtailed religious freedoms since taking power in 2012.

Since leaving between late 2019 and early 2020, the church has given up on seeking asylum in South Korea, where the members had lived. 

Mr Pan said church members have had their asylum claims rejected a number of times and decided not to continue appealing through South Korean courts due to the low likelihood of success and what they felt was increasing harassment from Chinese officials.

Church members said they have also been seeking resettlement in the US as another option and have conveyed that to American diplomats.

The US State Department, the US Embassy in Seoul and South Korea's Justice Ministry didn't immediately respond to queries, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Mr Pan said: "We aren't able to secure any status through legal processes in South Korea, and the U.S. also hasn't resettled us.

"There's no way out for us in South Korea."

Church members aren't sure how long they may need to stay in Bangkok and are worried that they may be deported to China if their visas run out

Mr Pan said: "This is dangerous but it is an opportunity.

 "If we stayed in Jeju, we would have had no chance."

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