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The Epoch Times
The Epoch Times
8 Apr 2023

NextImg:Christians Fleeing Persecution in China Arrive in Texas for Easter

A group of more than 60 fleeing Christians have arrived safely in the United States after escaping severe religious persecution in communist China, according to a U.S. lawmaker.

The refugees are members of the Shenzhen Holy Reformed Church, also known as the “Mayflower Church.” They fled China in 2019 and traveled to Thailand in August 2022 from South Korea’s Jeju Island, where they had stayed during their journey to escape religious persecution.

Christianity and other faith-based groups in China are seen as an ideological threat to the atheistic Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and face persecution, torture, and other serious harm.

“After years of fleeing persecution suffered at the hands of the Chinese Communist Party, these men and women of great faith can finally enjoy religious freedom in America,” said Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) in a statement.

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) speaks as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken testifies before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in Washington on March 10, 2021. (Ken Cedeno/AFP via Getty Images)

Smith, who chairs the Congressional-Executive Commission on China as well as the House Foreign Affairs global human rights subcommittee, announced the news on April 7, a special day in the Christian calendar known as Good Friday.

Good Friday, which occurs during the holiday of Easter, also known as Pascha, marks one of the most important events in the Christian faith, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ after he was crucified, died, and was buried.

“It is a very Good Friday indeed, and a perfect Easter gift to see these persecuted Chinese Christians arrive and be allowed to practice their faith freely in the United States,” said Smith.

Smith, who has advocated for the group over the past several years, believes that had they been forcibly repatriated to China, they would have been jailed and severely persecuted. He engaged with government officials and advocates from South Korea to help prevent possible refoulement to China.

After news broke last week that the Chinese Christians were detained in Thailand, Smith also engaged Thai government officials to help ensure the group was not repatriated to China as the result of suspected pressure from CCP agents.

Smith believes that corruption at the local level led to the unfolding crisis and that Thai government officials must be more vigilant when it comes to malign CCP activities within their country. He called for any Thai officials to hold accountable any officials who colluded with CCP agents in an attempt to deprive the church members of their rights under international refugee law.

“In the future, Thai government officials must be more vigilant when it comes to malign CCP activities within their country,” said Smith.

After they were unable to gain asylum in South Korea, the group of roughly 28 adults and 35 children relocated to Thailand last year.

However, after being unable to renew their visas in Thailand, they were arrested in Pattaya on March 30. They were also fined and later taken to a detention facility in Bangkok.

When the group was detained, Elaine Pearson, the Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said on Twitter the Thai government should ensure they “are not returned to China, where they face persecution, torture [and] other serious harm.”

Thailand’s immigration law requires Chinese nationals to report to the Chinese Embassy before they apply for a visa. This reportedly prevented the group of Christian refugees from having their visas renewed.

Christians in China who refuse to be members of CCP-approved churches, which teach a modified version of Christianity, attend so-called “house churches.” Pearson has said members of these house churches “increasingly face harassment, arbitrary arrests, and imprisonment.”

Chinese security guards together with police keep hundreds of Chinese Christian worshippers away from the Wangfujing Catholic Church in Beijing, during Christmas mass, on 25 Dec. 2003. (Goh Chai Hin/AFP via Getty Images)

According to Human Rights Watch, the Thai government under Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha has a long record of collaborating with Chinese authorities to “harass, detain, and forcibly return” Chinese nationals who have fled to Thailand to escape political and religious persecution.

The U.S.-based Christian organization, Freedom Seekers, has been working to rehome the members of the Mayflower Church in Tyler, Texas.

Church communities in Texas had offered last year to sponsor the Christian asylum seekers, offering to provide them with housing and living expenses while they settle in, reported Christianity Today.

Their arrival in America has been welcomed by Christian organizations involved in their resettlement.

According to Texas-based ChinaAid, the U.S. Department of State, Department of Homeland Security, various UN agencies, and the Thai government coordinated to bring the group to Texas.

Bob Fu, the founder of ChinaAid, called their arrival a “joyful homecoming,” while the organization’s CEO, Chad Bullard hailed it as “a successful example of nonpartisan, international cooperation.”

“None of this would have been possible without the help of partners, members of Congress, and U.S. government staff who worked countless hours in order to bring the Mayflower Church to safety,” Fu said in a statement. Now they can live out their faith fully without fear of persecution!”

Bullard thanked the U.S. State Department’s International Religious Freedom Office, USCIRF, Reps. Mike McCaul (R-Texas) and Smith, Taiwan Speaker You Si-Kun, and former Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.). He noted that assistance was also provided by Reps. Nathaniel Moran (R-Texas) and August Pfluger (R-Texas), as well as Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).