Sun, Aug 12, 2007 - Page 2 News List

Taipei forum calls support for foreign spouses insufficient

By Max Hirsch  /  STAFF REPORTER

The nation still lacks support services for the surging number of immigrant spouses, who typically face an uphill battle in adjusting to life here, immigration experts said at a forum on cross-border families yesterday.

The Taipei forum, "Getting to know cross-border families," brought together academics and experts from nonprofit organizations for a discussion on the challenges of helping immigrant spouses adjust to Taiwan, particularly as the country learns how to deal with its growing immigrant population.

As of June last year, the country was home to nearly 400,000 immigrant spouses, approximately 260,000 of whom came from China. The remaining were mostly women from Southeast Asia, particularly Vietnam.

"Social services for immigrant spouses are stuck in a mode of intervening after crises have already been encountered," Eden Social Welfare Foundation official Chu Li-ying (朱莉英) said while hosting the forum.

"Usually it's only once the family or marriage is about to split apart that professional help is sought," Chu said.

A nonprofit that helps immigrant spouses and other disadvantaged groups, Eden promotes "preventative work," including preparing immigrant spouses for culture shock, linguistic barriers and other problems commonly encountered by such immigrants before, or shortly after, marrying into local families -- a concept not yet rooted in public and private social workers' modi operandi.

The matter is further complicated by the fact that many social service providers helping immigrant spouses know very little about their cultures, National Taiwan Normal University (NTNU) professor Yang Tsung-jung (楊聰榮) said.

"If you want to help them," Yang told nonprofit representatives, "you need to understand their cultures."

One of the most common, and surprisingly severe, problems encountered by Vietnamese immigrants is the lack of authentic Vietnamese cuisine and the difficulty of becoming accustomed to local eating habits, Yang said.

Taiwanese married to foreigners would do well to be sensitive to their spouses culinary cravings, he said, adding that seemingly simple problems arising from cultural differences could snowball into major crises if not addressed.

"Sometimes," Yang said, "family support isn't enough to see immigrant spouses through these problems; they need professional help by culturally savvy social workers."

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