Yingyu Alicia Chen is an independent journalist specializing in forced migration, conflict and human rights. She previously worked as a news researcher at The Washington Post, covering China, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Her works appear in The Washington Post, Al Jazeera, British Medical Journal, Equal Times, The Reporter (a Taiwan-based investigative media organization), Initium Media (a Chinese-language media outlet) and others.
The topics she's covered on the ground include Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Hong Kong exiles in Taiwan and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. She is also a contributing writer for Migrants of the Mediterranean and has documented the stories of African migrants who attempted to cross the Mediterranean Sea.
With a team coordinated by the Environmental Reporting Collective, Yingyu worked for months in 2021 investigating illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing that is linked to China and Taiwan. The project, "Ocean Inc.," won the 2022 SOPA Awards for Investigative Reporting and Environmental Reporting.
Through her storytelling and photography, she hopes to return disregarded social issues to the spotlight, bring better understandings of others, and accomplish stories that positively impact people and society.
My journalism journey: Human first, journalist second
In 2015, hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants tried to cross the sea to seek safety in Europe. At that time, I studied abroad in Spain and met someone who greatly influenced my life: a chef working on a refugee rescue boat with Doctors Without Borders (MSF). He witnessed a child’s birth in the midst of a mass drowning of 500 people, and comforted a mother who had survived when all her children died. His team rescued around a thousand people in a weekend but two of boats with hundreds of refugees and migrants drowned before they arrived. These stories of his work and scenes from rescue operations truly shocked me, as well as motivated me to provoke awareness of this dismissed issue in Chinese-speaking societies.
I had the chance to interview several crew members working on a refugee rescue boat when their boat disembarked at the harbor in Spain, spending three days with them, listening to their stories, struggles and their risky missions throughout the Mediterranean. Publishing a report is a part of the response to the movement of refugees and migrants in the Mediterranean, that shows the need for real, safer alternatives for people who need international protection. In fact, I found it incredibly hard to remain rational whilst coming to understand the severity of the issues I was uncovering.
That experience drove me to go to Malta in 2017, where I produced reports on the struggles that refugees face in the country. I interviewed refugee entrepreneurs who help newcomers integrate into society, and some young African asylum seekers who were living in a detention center in miserable conditions. They gave me a welcome smile, and a warm hug when we first met, and their energy, joy and positive attitudes encouraged me so much as I knew they had been through such severely tough times.
I often ask myself: who am I to listen to their pains and sufferings, who am I to request them to share a part of their lives with me? Sometimes I have an answer, but most of times, I don’t. What I do know is that their stories acutely become part of my life. I’m not the one who can grab one story and move on to another. Instead, I always feel I take refuge in the hearts of those whom I have encountered, and carry them with me every single day.
I have spoken to a Cambodian woman shedding tears in front of me due to her suffering from domestic violence; a child in Belize living in poverty walking barefoot under the scorching sun to sell fruits in the city; a mother of two crossing the Thai-Cambodian border illegally many times to fight for a living; a girl under 25 who fled her country while pregnant and delivered her baby on a refugee rescue boat in the Mediterranean Sea. The stories of my interviewees left a severe mark on me, their innate resilience and human fragility are all now woven into my understanding of the reality and the real emotions generated from human beings. The rage I felt from this injustice has been the basis for my passion for journalism work.
Standing in the position to share people's voices has never been easy. I suffer, but feel blessed at the same time. Their stories are heartbreaking, but have inspired me so many times. This position reminds me of how carefully I need to trend, so that my work reflects my respect towards human dignity.
“Human first, journalist second” has been my guiding principle in journalism over the past two years. Every time I work in the field, I realize why my work is so important. I not only want to share stories but also provide a mean to seek justice for the people I have and will interview.
Indeed, there are so many obstacles we need to cross; so many hazards are along the way. However, the most phenomenal thing about this universe is that you can see the most beautiful love in the darkest world, singing a bit harmony in a chaotic road and finding inner peace in the corners that been long dismissed by the world.
One thing very clear to me is that: these people have brought me to where I am.