President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) yesterday condemned discrimination against migrants after Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) compared migrant workers to “chickens,” saying many of them are engaged in the sex trade and other illegal part-time jobs.
Everyone in Taiwan, whether they arrived a long time ago or recently, must be respected without discrimination, Tsai said at a Chunghwa Post event in Taipei when asked about Han’s remarks.
“Elected officials must avoid referring to immigrants and migrant workers using erroneous or stereotypical terms,” she said.
The controversy started on Thursday last week, when Han, the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) candidate for next year’s presidential election, said: “All the phoenixes have flown away, while a bunch of chickens have moved in,” when commenting on Taiwan’s brain drain and the increasing number of migrant workers during a Facebook livestream.
In Chinese, a chicken is sometimes used as a derogatory term for a sex worker.
Although he immediately asked for forgiveness after being corrected by his policy adviser, Joyce Feng (馮燕), who told Han on the spot that “it is not right to discriminate,” the mayor on Wednesday claimed that his words had been distorted.
In an effort to explain what he actually meant, Han said during a Facebook livestream on Wednesday that he had received a complaint about illegal migrant workers from a customs officer.
Quoting the anonymous customs officer, Han said that officers at an airport have been struggling to screen Southeast Asian travelers who come in on visa-waiver programs launched by the Tsai administration as part of its New Southbound Policy.
Although some of them apparently traveled alone, had no money and could not speak Chinese or English, officers could not deny them entry because of pressure from the Tourism Bureau, Han quoted the officer as saying.
“Sometimes we suspect half of the passengers on a flight are up to no good, but there is no way we can possibly find out, because we are too understaffed to question them one by one,” Han said, quoting the officer.
“We recently caught many who had entered the nation [on visa waivers] and were engaged as sex workers or illegal part-time work,” Han said, quoting the officer.
Taiwanese are grateful to immigrants, but those who are staying illegally cause problems for the nation, he said.
Later on Wednesday, the Customs Administration issued a statement saying that Han appeared to have confused the responsibilities of the agency with those of the National Immigration Agency (NIA).
It is the immigration officers’ responsibility to screen travelers at the border, while customs officers inspect goods, it said.
Han’s campaign officer said that the point of the mayor’s remarks was not about the difference between customs officers and immigration officers, but “how to put an end to illegal part-time work and the sex trade.”
According to the NIA, 1.52 million people from nine Southeast Asian countries entered Taiwan last year under the New Southbound Policy, a 140 percent jump from 635,000 people in 2015.
Of that number, 3 percent were found to have breached Taiwanese laws last year, down from 4 percent in 2015, the agency said.
Most of the breaches were against administration laws, such as losing contact, overstaying or working illegally, it said.
The nine countries included in the program are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.
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