MOE urged to take action over 'human trafficking' of foreign students

01/12/2022 07:53 PM
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DPP lawmaker Fan Yun (center) holds a news conference at the Legislative Yuan Wednesday. CNA photo Jan. 12, 2022
DPP lawmaker Fan Yun (center) holds a news conference at the Legislative Yuan Wednesday. CNA photo Jan. 12, 2022

Taipei, Jan. 12 (CNA) Democratic Progressive Party lawmaker Fan Yun (范雲) and civil society groups on Wednesday called on the Ministry of Education (MOE) to take immediate action to prevent foreign students in Taiwan from being forced to work as cheap labor.

On Monday, The Reporter, a Taipei-based independent news outlet, ran a story on 16 Ugandan students enrolled at Chung Chou University of Science and Technology (CCUT) in Changhua County in 2019, who were later sent to factories to work as "interns" for long hours with low pay.

The report said the students could not refuse to work because they had run up huge tuition fee debts to the school.

According to the report, CCUT guaranteed the students scholarships and courses taught in English before their arrival in Taiwan, but failed to provide either.

Reportedly only one of the students has managed to leave CCUT by transferring to another university.

At a press conference in Taipei, Fan said what happened to the Ugandan students was not a one-off occurrence and demonstrates that the MOE has done nothing effective to prevent such exploitation.

Fan mentioned similar cases over the past few years, including one involving 69 Sri Lankan students who came to Taiwan to study at the University of Kang Ning in 2018 but were later asked to work illegally at processing factories or slaughterhouses.

Taiwan Association for Human Rights secretary-general Shih Yi-hsiang (施逸翔) said the latest case constituted human trafficking because the Ugandan students were oppressed and forced to work in Taiwan.

Shih cited the International Labour Organization's forced labor indicator as saying that the students were subject to abuse of vulnerability, deception, intimidation and threats, debt bondage, abusive working and living conditions and excessive overtime.

He criticized the inaction and negligence of the MOE over many years that has allowed such serious violations of human rights to continue on Taiwan's campuses.

Collines Mugisha, one of the 16 Ugandan students who came to Taiwan in 2019, said at the press conference that he used to work over 10 hours a day until he transferred to Providence University in Taichung last year.

Mugisha, who originally hoped to study intelligent automation engineering, said he had worked as a computer numerical control (CNC) machine operator, a construction site worker, as well as logistics company worker for about two years while at CCUT.

Even at school, he could barely understand anything in class because all courses were mainly taught in Chinese, Mugisha added.

"I was tortured both physically and psychologically," said Mugisha, adding he was "very disappointed" that he was unable to receive the quality education in Taiwan CCUT staff who traveled to Uganda to recruit students had promised.

The 21-year-old student said he was now studying at Providence University where he has been granted a full scholarship and given courses "as good as I expected."

However, he decided to talk to media now because there are still Ugandan students who came to Taiwan with the hope of fulfilling their dreams suffering similar treatment at CCUT, he said.

"If I don't do so, then a lot of dreams are going to be buried," he said, calling for the Taiwanese authorities to intervene.

Similarly, Fan called on the MOE to investigate the case and offer immediate assistance to the 15 Ugandan students who remain at CCUT.

The MOE should tighten its review of universities wishing to recruit foreign students and ensure that those universities can provide international students with suitable courses as well as internship opportunities that are in line with the students' area of study, Fan said.

She also questioned the effectiveness of a hotline established by the MOE in 2019 for foreign students to report problems, saying the ministry should make improvements and do more to help students who need assistance.

Taiwan Labour Front secretary general Son Yu-liam (孫友聯) urged the Ministry of Labor to look into the case, adding that the factories employing the Ugandan students may have violated the Labor Standards Act, which forbids forced labor.

Following the report on Monday, the MOE said in a statement its initial investigation indicated CCUT had committed "serious violations," but failed to outline any additional actions it would take to assist the students.

In another statement issued Wednesday, the MOE said if universities or employers hiring foreign students are suspected of breaking the law that bans human trafficking and forced labor, it will report them to prosecutors for further investigation.

The MOE has forbidden CCUT from recruiting foreign students and will cut the university's subsidies, the statement said, adding that it had ordered the university to make improvements.

However, a CCUT representative told CNA on Monday that the university never promised to provide courses taught fully in English. The representative also said CCUT had set up scholarships but it is possible the foreign students did not apply for them or their applications were rejected.

The university declined to comment on reports about the Ugandan students being sent to factories to work long hours.

(By Teng Pei-ju and Hsiao Bo-yang)

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