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Foreign workers push for rights to gather in public places

2012/09/16 18:48:02

Taipei, Sept. 12 (CNA) Around 50 foreign workers from Southeast Asia and activists protested in front of the Taipei Railway Station on Sunday, demanding the right to gather in public places after a controversial move by the station to close parts of its lobby.

Protesters held placards reading "anti-racism" and shouted "If Hong Kong can, why can't Taiwan?" in front of the station.

They then walked into the station and sat down on the main lobby floor, holding yellow ribbons in their hands to symbolize their call for acceptance.

"Why can't we meet here? We have not done anything wrong. If we can't meet here, where should we go?" an Indonesian woman named Niken, told CNA.

Niken, 26, who has worked as a domestic caregiver in Taiwan for four years, said foreign workers like her do not have enough time and money to go to movies, KTVs or shopping centers like other Taiwanese.

"We may have two hours of rest before we go back to work again," she said, noting that the Taipei Railway Station is a convenient spot for her to meet up briefly with her friends.

The Taipei Railway Station recently closed off a large part of its main lobby with retractable belts, after receiving complaints that a large crowd of Indonesian workers who gathered at the station after the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Fitr (Festival of Fast-Breaking) last month blocked walkways.

The station had said it would implement the measure on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays until it came up with a long-term plan to deal with the situation.

The train station removed the retractable belts on Sunday and a train station official met the protesters afterward to explain that the policy was not targeting foreign workers.

Wu Yong-yi, a policy research director at the Taiwan International Worker's Association, criticized the station's move, however, as indeed targeting foreign workers, who often gather on weekends at the station.

He called on Taiwan to follow Hong Kong, which he said not only allows foreign workers to gather in public places such as Victoria Park and Statue Square, but even provides garbage clean-up and other services for the workers.

The government has allowed 400,000 foreign workers to enter Taiwan and has a responsibility to provide a convenient place for them to go when they have time off, Wu contended.

Chen Hsiu-lien, secretary-general of the association, said many Taiwanese take it for granted that foreign workers do not need a day off and are therefore oblivious to their need for recreational space.

Chen urged the government to find a solution to the problem.

Taiwan has around 440,000 foreign workers, with most coming from Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

(By Christie Chen)