How can I help someone on the run from the Chinese mafia?
June 7, 2011 7:36 PM   Subscribe

How can I help someone on the run from the Chinese mafia for something a family member did?

I've just learned that a close friend, let's call him Li, is on the run in China and fears for himself and his family's safety. I've known Li for years, and have no reason to doubt the truth of what he's told me.

An immediate family member of Li lost their family's life savings gambling and also apparently owes substantial sums to the mafia in a few locations in China (on the order of hundreds of thousands of dollars). This family member, who was the wage earner for the family, has disappeared and left Li and family homeless, penniless, and worried that the mafia will harm him and his family. Li has quit using the internet (besides gmail, which he thinks is relatively safe because it isn't under Chinese control) and cell phones, ceased contact with Chinese friends and extended family, and has been bouncing around cities in China, trying not to be found. Li has nothing to do with the problems other than familial relation, and fears he might be kidnapped and held ransom or whatever else could happen in this sort of situation.

I'm currently in the US, though will soon be in China again. I've no intention of putting myself or anyone else in danger. I have some (not much) money to spare and am willing to put in whatever leg work that's needed. Li has not asked for money or any other help. But I cannot leave a friend out to dry, and if there's something I can do, no matter how small or large, I will.

What can I do to help Li? Are there agencies to contact in these sorts of situations? This doesn't seem to be the usual sort of asylum/refugee situation because there's no political or religious element. Li is worried about contacting any Chinese government entities, obviously; government corruption and ties to the mafia must be assumed.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not any kind of expert in any of these matters, but I do know I've heard many anecdotes about going to the Catholics or Baptists to be shielded. I have no idea how helpful they can be, but my understanding is that this is something they can help with.
posted by batmonkey at 8:00 PM on June 7, 2011

Are you sure Li isn't just trying to scam you for some money? I hate to be the devils advocate, but being that you are "american", family back home don't see you the same as them. I'm not from China, but instead a nearby south east asian country where all my relatives back home see us "americans" as another paycheck to them. They are always thinking up ways to get us to send money home, someone just died, someone's getting married, someone's got into an accident or has a terminal illness and needs to go to the hospital, someone needs bail money, etc... I've had relatives that even went to the point to say, we didn't get the money you sent, please send again... fooled us once, shame on you, fooled us twice shame on us :(
But nevermind if none of this applies to you.
posted by udon at 8:06 PM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Contact the American embassy in China, explain the situation and ask for a list of non-governmental organizations that might be able to assist. Under no circumstances give him money from your own pocket.
posted by smithsmith at 8:14 PM on June 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

To echo udon, I'm the "American" to a lot of people in a different developing country. My favorite tutor has the same story -- gambling addiction, rest of family used to be dependent upon his income, now they don't know what to do, strange men come to the house demanding to know where Gambling Guy is, taking their TV...

And then family members come to me, the "American" with pleas for help. And whenever there is a crisis, the family comes more often with pleas.

And I'm not the only one that they've come to... many other students of this tutor have been put in the same position by his family. (And this has been going on for over a decade now)...

But what the hell can we ("The Americans") do about this situation? I try to help by giving a little money here and there to the women in the family that are buying food, but otherwise I'm not sure what to do.

I don't think that this is a scam per se in any of the situations described in this post, but I think that the issue is bigger than any help you can give.
posted by k8t at 8:16 PM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

If it really is that serious, and he doesn't trust anyone in China, maybe you can get his a ticket to France and he can enlist in the Legion. 5 year commitment, and after 3 he can become a French citizen.
posted by wrnealis at 8:25 PM on June 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

For what it's worth, among my asylees/refugees I have had people who were persecuted for similar reasons by druglords/south american mafia. One particular case travelled on a tourist visa from their country to another one in South America, were they claimed refugee status and were brought to the US as refugees. It took several years for them to stay in the intermediate country, though. Is there a way for him to run to another country and claim refugee status there?

searching on google I found this Chinese Newcomer Services organization. They may be able to help you.

Ok. I just asked the immigration lawyer in my office, and he tells me this:

Li's possibilities are slim because these circumstances do not happen often in China. However, just to try, he can come as a refugee, in which case he would have to flee to a third country and apply for refugee status there. He would have to have proof (threats, police reports, etc) and he would spend a couple of years in the third country before being sent to whatever country opens up a place (could be the US, Norway, Australia, etc.)

His other possibility is to try to make it as an asylee. In order to do this, people buy a ticket to the us, arrive here, and once asked about their status (or lack of visa) they claim asylee status. this involves waiting in jail here, and also showing as much proof of persecussion as possible.

there are no alternatives for him to come here from China directly.

and of course IANAL, YL etc, etc. just some stranger from the internet.
posted by Tarumba at 12:09 PM on June 8, 2011

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