TAIPEI - Time and again, Taiwan has been described as the island brimming with hospitality for foreigners and fellow residents alike. The trait was blown into at least a dozen different slogans of government propaganda and tourism advertisements, and something the Taiwanese are both proud and growing weary of. And underlying all that thick makeup of friendliness is a shade of hypocrisy that digs at the cheery exterior.
Recently rated the second safest country in the world after Japan, there is no denying that Taiwan is indeed a snug and secure spot with a crime rate variable of 16.26 and a safety rate variable of 83.74, according to Lifestyle9.com.
"Taiwan is one of the best places to live in terms of low exposure to violent crimes and robbery ... people in Taiwan (are) friendly, tender-hearted and honest," the website stated. It also portrayed Taiwan as a stable country where "women feel perfectly safe," and "a country where you can find people who help you before you approach," which is common praise from many tourists - a group of people regarded as the "first-class foreigners" by many in Taiwan. But this is where a large portion of the hospitality ends.
The rights of the foreign laborers - the second class bunch - in Taiwan is a topic worn thin and rarely taken notice of by locals, unless their own rights and privacy are being threatened. It is with the same weariness that this article is being written, as this double-standard hospitality is nothing new in Taiwan; yet it is always astonishing when one is hit by the familiar realisation that people can be so hypocritical when it comes to those who are not their own.
The Taipei City Government's Department of Social Welfare was recently accused of discriminating against foreign migrants in need, having allegedly asked the National Immigration Agency (NIA) to stop sending foreign workers and migrants waiting to be deported to the Harmony Home Association, a charity organisation that provides care for people with HIV and also the said foreign individuals, most of whom are from Southeast Asia.
In a meeting held with human rights groups, Social Welfare Commissioner Wang Hao (王浩) was heard remarking that the organisation was turning Taipei into its backyard for depositing "trash."
The baldly degrading statement may have been triggered by a number of protests from community residents, who were against the facilities right from day one, when one of the home's branches moved into a community in Taipei's Wenshan District.
Frequent visits from the police led to calls from the Wenshan facility to stop taking in migrants in need of temporary accommodation or assistance before returning to their countries, a suggestion/order that somewhat lacked logic as many of the foreign migrants had been sent to the organisation by the city's Social Welfare Department.
Being stuck in some sort of a legal limbo, there were many disputes regarding whether Harmony Home should be allowed registration with the government, which does not have laws and policies for these kinds of temporary homes. But despite the lack of legal permission, what disgusts us is the lack of empathy from the community residents and the government.
Tolerance is of course easier said than done. Though there may be no need to target the government and the residents with demanding questions on the reasons for their pathetic shortage of feelings, the least the government could have done was to amend or draft new laws that at least determined the fate and future of these migrants, instead of transferring these "cases" to a non-profit organisation while secretly trying to stamp it out at the same time.
What is the rationale that backs the mentality of the Department of Social Welfare? Stripped of labels such as diseased, migrants and laborers, these people are just as whole as anybody else and deserve to be treated like human beings, just as everyone wishes to be treated.