Fri, Dec 03, 2004 - Page 2 News List

Foreigners speak out on lack of rights protection

NO ENFORCEMENT The individuals' stories show all too clearly that while government policies to protect foreigners' rights exists, they are not well implemented


Yesterday three foreigners stepped out to testify how through mishaps at home and in the workplace their human rights have been overlooked in Taiwan.

In a press conference held by Legal Aid Foundation, which was founded in July to provide free legal aid to the underprivileged, three clients of the foundation shared their personal experiences, highlighting the lack of government policy implementation in protecting foreigners' rights.

"Should Taiwan dare to claim to practice human rights, the most vulnerable group of people in our society must be able to feel safe and protected," said Joseph Lin (林永頌), chairman of the foundation's Taipei branch.

Two of the individual's stories follow. Their names have been changed to protect their privacy.

Ms. Zhou married her elderly husband and moved to Taiwan from Shandong Province, China seven years ago.

One day in October 2002, Zhou flipped through her husband's savings book to make sure the family's finances were sound. When her husband found out about the incident, he called a police officer to their house and claimed that Zhou had stolen his money. Later Zhou's husband dragged her to a police station. There she was forced to sign a divorce agreement and was told that by doing so, the theft allegation against her would be dropped.

Any time that Zhou's husband was displeased with her, he would threaten to have her repatriated. At home, Zhou did not have access to the family savings, which were managed entirely by her husband.

Zhou had signed the divorce agreement under coercion, but later filed a legal case to fight for the validity of their marriage -- and thus began a bitter legal battle.

When the Supreme Court's ruled that Zhou's case would not stand, she was determined to file for an appeal. Around that time, she heard about the newly established foundation and immediately sought help.

Zhou has not been able to return to her home and has stayed at a church shelter.

"The government should treat us [foreigners] like human beings. I know I am not the only person out there going through this kind of suffering," Zhou said.

Tham, a Vietnamese woman in her early 20s, was tricked into working in Taiwan by her employment agency in Vietnam last May, and was promised a salary of NT$15,840 a month.

In order to pay for the exorbitant brokerage fee of US$5,000, Tham took out a high interest loan, thinking that her future income would enable her to gradually pay off her debt.

Upon arrival, Tham was sent to work on an assembly line in an electronic spare-parts factory, where overtime was common and her daily work schedule averaged about 16 hours.

Exhausted from her day-to-day drudge, Tham hoped her labor would result in decent pay. On her first payday, Tham learned that her promised pay, which was equivalent to the minimum wage stipulated by the Council of Labor Affairs (CLA), was subject to deductions for various expenses. Her pay was reduced to just NT$7,000 a month.

Although Tham's hopes were dashed, she continued to work at the factory for another ten months until one day she collapsed at work. After being treated at a hospital, Tham decided to run away from the factory and found another job at a metal processing plant.

Unfamiliar with the handling of heavy machinery, Tham lost four fingers in an accident. However, her employer insisted on having her discharged from the hospital after only two days of treatment. As a result of incomplete treatment, the remaining flesh on Tham's hand had to be cut off due to infection.

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