CORONAVIRUS/Group urges better support for returning international students

08/07/2020 08:46 PM
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The demonstration in front of the Ministry of Education. CNA photo Aug. 7, 2020
The demonstration in front of the Ministry of Education. CNA photo Aug. 7, 2020

Taipei, Aug. 7 (CNA) A student rights group rallied in downtown Taipei on Friday demanding that the government provide better support for returning international students and not discriminate against Chinese students.

Some 15 members of the group "Taiwan International Student Movement," almost all of them students from China and Hong Kong, rallied outside the Ministry of Education (MOE) to demand that the ministry provide more affordable places for students to stay in quarantine when they return from abroad.

The group estimates there are close to 16,000 international students -- 5,000 from China and 11,000 from 19 other countries -- who have remained abroad during the COVID-19 pandemic and need to return to Taiwan to continue their studies.

"Many students struggle to pay for 14-day hotel quarantine, because it is anywhere from NT$30,000 (US$1,021) to NT$45,000. It is a huge burden for international students and make us less willing to continue our studies," said Lala (安安), a graduate student from Hong Kong currently studying at National Central University.

The MOE should also set up a mechanism to provide financial assistance to international students who are struggling financially and need to return to Taiwan to complete their studies, Lala told CNA.

The government provides a NT$1,000 a day stipend for travelers during the 14-day quarantine, but the students felt that was inadequate.

Many at the rally, however, preferred to focus their attention on Taiwan's exclusion of Chinese students in a policy announced by the MOE Wednesday to allow international students enrolled in Taiwan universities to return to continue their studies.

CNA photo Aug. 7, 2020
CNA photo Aug. 7, 2020

In making the announcement, the MOE said the policy was open to all students, but quickly reversed course, saying students from China who are not in their final year were not included because of "cross-Strait-related considerations," according to Deputy Education Minister Lio Mon-chi (劉孟奇).

"We're furious about the announcement because politics should not outweigh our right to education," said Kevin (阿草), a graduate student from China currently studying at a university in Taipei.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Taiwan closed its borders to foreign nationals on March 19, but the restrictions have been gradually eased in recent weeks to allow short visits by businesspeople and the return of international students and others.

On June 17, the entry ban was lifted for final year students from 19 countries and territories classified as low-risk or low-to-moderate risk for COVID-19. The rules were further relaxed on July 22 to also allow the entry of new students from those places and final year students from all other countries, including China.

In many cases, returning students can stay in dorm rooms during their 14-day quarantine, but the protesters were worried not enough of them were available.

MOE official Liao Kao-hsien (廖高賢) told the students that quarantine dormitories need to be examined by the Central Epidemic Command Center before they are opened to international students.

At present, there are some 4,000 qualified rooms at 33 universities, and the MOE is helping universities open more of them before the upcoming semester, Liao said.

Liao did not give a definite answer when the student group asked when the MOE would next hold meetings to allow students from China to re-enter Taiwan to complete their studies.

"The MOE will respect the negotiations between cross-strait official channels," Liao said.

(By William Yen, and CNA interns Lo Jing-wen and Evelyn Yang)

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