Yingyu Alicia Chen is a news researcher at The Washington Post based in Taipei, Taiwan. She was previously an independent journalist focusing on forced migration, forced labor, and human rights.
Her works appear in The Washington Post, Al Jazeera English, Equal Times, Southeast Asia Globe, The Reporter (Taiwanese investigative media organization), the Initium Media (Hong Kong-based media outlet), and others.
Topics include asylum policies and refugee issues in Malta and Lebanon, human trafficking and undocumented migrants' rights in Southeast Asia, and politics and social movements in Taiwan and Hong Kong.
She is also a contributing writer of Migrants of the Mediterranean, documenting migrant's stories through humanitarian storytelling.
When reporting, she realized there is a great need for imaginative communicators to circulate understanding and empathy. Through these projects, she’s learned how to engage a global audience by combining detailed coverage of a complex controversy with strong narrative storytelling.
She has been writing in-depth reports in both English and Chinese and hopes to return disregarded social issues to the spotlight. She aims to implement the concepts of solutions journalism and peace journalism to every piece and produce high-impact solutions reporting.
Her publications appear in:
The Washington Post
Al Jazeera English
Southeast Asia Globe
The Initium Media
The News Lens International
NGOs she collaborated with:
Migrants of the Mediterranean, MotM
Doctors Without Borders, MSF
Migrant Offshore Aid Station, MOAS
Gruppo di Volontariato Civile Cambodia, GVC Cambodia
Basmeh & Zeitooneh (Lebanan-based)
African Media Association Malta
Spark 15 (Malta-based)
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.