In a seminar held yesterday by the Taiwan Expatriate Caring Committee (TECC), over a dozen Christian expatriate groups discussed ways in which society can help foreign migrant workers and other expatriates have a sense of belonging during their stay here.
"These foreign migrant workers need company, just like everybody else," Alain Haudenschild, Chairman of TECC, said. "Through fellowships and churches, they can find a place to share and feel a sense of community. Having a belief also provide these workers with strength and hope to carry on with their lives."
According to statistics from the Council of Labor Affairs (CLA), as of the end of September there were 307,477 foreign migrant workers in Taiwan -- 103,850 Thais, 89,318 Filipinos, 80,892 Vietnamese, 33,318 Indonesians, 77 Mongolians and 22 Malaysians.
Alain Haudenschild, a Swiss-born missionary to Taiwan who is fluent in Mandarin, formed TECC this May in order to seek partnerships between foreign-speaking Christian groups and Chinese-speaking churches to minister and cater to the needs of foreign migrant workers.
Members of TECC include Japanese, Thai, Indonesian, Filipino, Tibetan, Vietnamese and Mongolian social services groups. Among them, Filipino and Thai groups seem the most effective at building communities, while the Tibetan and Mongolian groups are still in early days.
The groups urged locals to be aware of the difficult situation and condition faced by foreign workers, and to reach across cultural and ethnic boundaries to bond with them.
"These foreign workers are poor and suffering," said Tsai Kuo-shan (蔡國山) of the Taiwan Industrial Evangelical Fellowship. "In order to reach out to them, one must overcome class, cultural and ethnic distances."
According to Immanuel Scharrer, a German missionary to Taiwan, Thai workers are scattered in four major areas in Taiwan with about 50,000 in Taoyuan, 20,000 in Taichung, 5,000 in Chiayi and 25,000 in Kaoshiung. Thai workers face the most exorbitant brokerage fees of all foreign migrant workers.
"On average, once leaving for Taiwan, a Thai worker needs to pay a total of NT$150,000 in brokerage fees, which is the highest [amount] of all foreign migrant workers in Taiwan," said Scharrer. In order to pay off those fees, Thai workers end up in debt and having to pay high rates of interest on their loans.
"On a monthly basis, NT$8,000 of a Thai worker's income goes towards paying off interest and loan payments, which then leaves him NT$5,000 in savings," Scharrer said.
Scharrer's group runs activities to enrich Thai workers lives in Taiwan, including camps every Chinese New Year in Taoyuan that offer them a place to go during those precious few days off work. In addition, Chinese and English courses are offered to Thai workers to help them communicate with the locals.
Filipino workers, due to their decade-long employment history in Taiwan and their large population, have perhaps the strongest community of all foreign workers.
"In addition to the numerous churches here that offer fellowships and recreational activities, there are also open forums available to address the many issues faced by Filipino workers, such as how to take care of their finances," said Romulo Paul Ko, the pastor of Tagalog Fellowship of Taipei International Church.
Ko and his group support a direct hiring system of Filipino workers that would eliminate the need for expensive middlemen. In September, a Philippines government official visited the CLA to propose such a system, Ko said.