Although 2022 may be seen as the continuation of the Covid-19 pandemic worldwide, it has also marked the third year after Taiwan opened its agricultural labour market to Southeast Asian workers. It is widely known in Taiwan that small tenant farmers in the vegetable, fruit, and tea sectors and livestock farmers have been challenged by chronic shortages of seasonal labour.
Narrated by Yosa Wariyanti, written by Isabelle Cheng. I have spent a total of 16 years abroad. When we return home, we have our savings, and we may open businesses. But businesses do not always go well. It is difficult for us to find jobs because we do not have good education or professional certificates. No one would hire us. Soon my daughter will go to university. I want to give her a good education. I need to work for at least another five years to pay for her tuition fees. So, I will just go on, and on, and on working abroad.
Written by Iweng Karsiwen and Ratih Kabinawa. Edited by Isabelle Cheng. A former domestic worker in Hong Kong for over ten years, Iweng Karsiwen is currently the Chair of Families of Indonesian Migrant Workers (Kabar Bumi). Initially she was recruited to work in Taiwan when the door opened for Indonesian women seeking domestic work there. However, instead of going to Taiwan, Iweng found herself arriving at a Hong Kong MTR station late one evening a year later. Knowing how the brokering industry functioned at home and abroad, after returning to Indonesia, Iweng was determined to help those who worked abroad and who faced similar challenges at various stage of their migration. She has particularly campaigned to outlaw salary reduction. This, as well as other practices mentioned by Iweng, are commonly adopted by brokers in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore.
Written by Isabelle Cheng. Women have a complicated relationship with the wars waged by the nation-state. Women are the reproducers and boundary ma(r)kers of the nation, so women, notably when they embody the nation’s image, are said to be protected by the state as a reason for going to war. They are also projected as the victims of war when the state loses to its enemy, mainly when the enemy uses rape as a weapon to weaken national morale. On the battlefield, women are used as fighters, porters, carers, entertainers or sex slaves to enhance war fighting capacity physically or mentally. During the two world wars, in the state’s propaganda, women were encouraged to ‘give away’ their husbands and sons to the state or were recruited to fill the vacancies left by men to work in the manufacturing, agricultural or transport sectors. Their homemaking and thrifty cooking were characterised as contributing to war efforts. Regardless of which of these roles they play, they are instrumentalised by the state.
Written by Nguyễn Thị Thanh Hà and Isabelle Cheng. It has been more than three decades since Southeast Asian nationals began to work and establish their families in Taiwan. Men and women from the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam and Cambodia fill the labour shortage in construction, fishing, manufacturing, care and agricultural industries, whilst the women became members of Taiwanese society because of their marriage and family formations. This ongoing regional migration flow has enriched the socio-cultural landscape of Taiwan, where multiculturalism becomes the prevailing normative value that respects and appreciates differences. Nevertheless, this development has not been smooth or unchallenged.
Written by Isabelle Cheng. On 31 August 2017, Nguyen Quoc Phi, an undocumented Vietnamese worker, was shot dead by a policeman in Hsinchu, northern Taiwan. Public responses to Phi’s death were polarised between pro-police campaigners, who supported the police’s use of force, and human rights activists, who emphasised the plight of migrant workers who are exploited by brokers and employers and who are regulated by a hostile guest worker system. This polarisation is also evident in cyberspace. The reporting of Phi’s death in September 2017, the sentencing of the policeman in July 2019, and the deaths of George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks in the U.S. in May and June 2020 prompted Taiwanese netizens to comment on PTT.
Interviewed, translated and edited by Isabelle Cheng. On 30 October 2020, the Taiwan Studies Programme hosted a webinar after the online screening of a pilot documentary Nine Shots (槍響之前) directed by Tsai Tsung-lung. This essay is an interview with Tsai about this pilot documentary, which discusses what, if not who, was responsible for the tragic death of Nguyen Quoc Phi. The latter was an undocumented Vietnamese migrant worker who was shot dead by the police, firing nine shots in 12 seconds, on 31 August 2017 in Hsinchu, northern Taiwan.
Written by Isabelle Cheng. [Migrant] men can’t produce babies, but women can. We can’t allow foreigners to give birth in Taiwan and breed more foreigners […] It is indeed inhumane to repatriate a pregnant woman. However, even permitted to give birth in Taiwan, she and her child would have to be deported eventually. It is even more inhumane to break her family and separate the child from the [Taiwanese] father after they’ve developed bonds (the Legislative Yuan, 17 April 1992, Taipei).
Written by Hong-zen Wang, Pei-chia Lan, Yen-fen Tseng, Chia-ling Wu, Chiung-chih Chen. On 26th February 2020, Taiwan Centre for Disease Control (CDC) announced that there had been 32 confirmed cases of infection in Taiwan. Case #32 was unknowingly infected when she was employed as the caregiver for Case #27 during the latter’s hospitalisation. After the CDC disclosed her identity as an ‘illegal’ Indonesian migrant worker, public fears surged; consequently, several county governments announced that they would tighten the measures and crackdown on undocumented workers.
Written by Ying-da Wong. The government seemed to take it for granted that all citizens and foreign residents are issued with an NHI Card, and that their NHI Card is valid. As a matter of fact, as detailed below, there is a wide gap between this presumption and reality. This gap may affect people’s rights or adversely curtail the effectiveness of disease prevention. So, before I move on, a fundamental question must be asked: are migrant workers entitled to the NHI, and are they issued with an NHI Card?
Written by Isabelle Cheng. For most Taiwan election observers, mid-November 2019 was full of high drama and factional struggle as the Kuomintang (KMT) and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) adjusted their nominations of non-constituency legislators (bufenqu daibiao, 不分區代表) on party representative lists. It was probably less likely, though, that observer attention would be drawn to how immigrant candidates featured on the list. However, for immigrant leaders, such as the one who rang me at 2:20am on Monday 18 November 2019, the two parties’ nominations caused a strong sense of disillusionment.