Migration is an innate aspect of human behavior and it has for a long time been an important issue in international politics. In recent years, Taiwan has often presented itself as a “society of migrants” and the government loves to employ fine-sounding phrases like “cultural pluralism.” However, when it comes to turning these slogans into practical laws and executive measures, one often cannot see the wood for the trees.
At one time, Taiwan hoped to formally align itself with international migration practices by enacting three laws related to migration — the Immigration Act (入出國及移民法), the National Immigration Agency Organic Act (內政部入出國及移民署組織法) and the Nationality Act (國籍法), thus confirming Taiwan’s identity as a “migrant society” with respect to its laws. However, defects in the legal system mean that the infringement of migrants’ rights is still happening as before. At present, the most serious policy discrimination is directed toward stateless people who end up being treated as “refugees.”
Following exposure by Taiwanese civic groups and the media, the issue of how refugees are treated has once again been raised in Taiwan. A case in point is documentary filmmaker Bibi Tsai (蔡詠晴) and her Tibetan husband, Lhundup Tsering. When Lhundup Tsering applied for residency, the authorities refused to grant him resident status based on joining his family. This was partly because the Ministry of Foreign Affairs does not recognize the “yellow book” identity certificate and partly because of political considerations stemming from Taiwan’s non-recognition of Tibet.
Lhundup Tsering’s case is not an isolated one — there have been other cases of stateless people in Taiwan. Over the years, whenever such situations arise, the government has generally handled them as “special cases.” This may help confirm Taiwan’s reputation as a humanitarian country, but it does not fix the conditions that cause such problems.
Many people think there is no refugee problem in Taiwan. Some officials even deny that refugees have been living in Taiwan for a long time. However, not talking about the problem will not make it go away.
In 2009, the legislature ratified two international human rights conventions — the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The government bragged that adopting these brought Taiwan in line with global human rights standards. However, a report by Amnesty International last month directly points out the infringement of migrants’ and migrant workers’ rights within Taiwan.
As for the proposed refugee law that authorities said they want to enact as a priority, it was given a first reading in 2007, when the Democratic Progressive Party was in office, but since President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) took over in 2008, little more has been heard of the bill.
June 20 was World Refugee Day, as designated by the UN. Refugee problems keep manifesting all around the world, and it would be good if people in Taiwan would give the issue some attention. Refugee crises in Myanmar and Sudan, which are being reported by the media and civic groups, call for concern and action from more Taiwanese.
Apart from that, we should take a look at our country and society as well. We need to think about how to ensure that society treats migrants, migrant workers and refugees in a friendlier manner. We should enact the proposed refugee law and fix the defects in laws and regulations related to migration. These are clearly tasks that Taiwan needs to tackle in response to the expectations of the international community.
Yang Tsung-li is the director of Amnesty International Taiwan.
Translated by Julian Clegg