What you need to know
Hoang Van Doan died in April after being detained by, and escaping from, police in the mountains of Alishan. His family wants a full investigation.
In April, a Vietnamese migrant worker named Hoang Van Doan died after being pursued by police for engaging in illegal logging – part of a dangerous campaign waged by police against predominantly Vietnamese loggers in Taiwan’s central mountains. After being detained and escaping arrest, he was found dead due to injuries which his sister, Hoang Thi Hoa, says resulted from unnecessary police force. Hoang, it was recently revealed, was wearing police handcuffs when he was found dead of blunt force trauma to his head.
In August 2017, another Vietnamese national, Nguyen Quoc Phi, was killed after being shot by police nine times in Hsinchu. Footage was later released which showed police and paramedics failing to give Nguyen medical treatment as he fought for his life.
Now, the Taipei-based NGO Taiwan International Workers’ Association (TIWA) is demanding a full investigation into Hoang’s death, along with a legal provision to allow migrant workers to freely switch employers – a provision which, if implemented, may have saved Hoang’s life.
The 31-year-old Hoang was a “runaway worker” – he had left his previous job to work illegally. At the press conference, his sister said Hoang had worked in the fishing industry, where he was often beaten and told off by the ship owner and made to starve, before fleeing the job and finding illegal work in the agricultural sector. Reports say he was approached by a group engaged in illegal logging – a dangerous yet highly lucrative industry in Taiwan.
Hoang lost his life after Seventh Special Police Force officers pursued his logging cabal in the outskirts of Fengshan Village, in Chiayi County’s Alishan region. He was struck in the head by an anti-riot ‘net gun,’ which caused a head injury with visible bleeding. Fearing deportation and possibly dazed, police say Hoang escaped when they left to get water to help Hoang clean his wound. But family members say they don’t think police tried very hard to find him.
Two years, two wrongful deaths?
On September 3, TIWA held a press conference in front of the National Police Agency to draw attention to the circumstances of Hoang’s death, which was attended by the father of the late Nguyen Quoc Phi. Protesters shouted the slogans: “Illegal workers are humans, not targets” and “Escaped foreign workers are not criminals.”
Along with an investigation into Hoang’s death, it called for the right for migrant workers to freely switch employers – currently restricted under the Employment Services Act (ESA), which governs labor rights for migrant workers. Hoang, who may have worked under poor conditions at his job in the fishery sector, had been unable to legally transfer to a new employer.
TIWA also called for an end to the practice of recruitment agencies of charging placement fees, which are typically deducted from a worker’s salary on a monthly basis. Hoang may have been in debt to recruiters when he died. He was also paying off a high medical bill as, due to his illegal status, he lacked Taiwanese public health insurance. TIWA pinpointed placement fees as a key factor in causing migrant workers to leave their jobs.
TIWA also demanded the government understand that not all escaping foreign workers are criminals. It called back to last year’s case of Nguyen Quoc Phi, a 27-year-old runaway worker himself who was shot after being suspected of stealing a car. Police shot Nguyen nine times after attempting to subdue him without success and being attacked by stones. BBC reported that police told paramedics not to approach Nguyen as he was not restrained. An ambulance then took away a slightly injured government worker while leaving the severely wounded Nguyen unattended, according to the report.
The terms of a civil settlement between Nguyen’s family and police, reached on August 29, 2018 in Hsinchu District Court, have not been made available, but PNN reported that the family received a sum slightly higher than the usual NT$2,500,000 (US$81,175) in loss of life compensation under a statute governing the use of arms by police. Although the judicial panel ruled that policeman Chen Chung-wen (陳崇文) used the gun improperly, the family agreed to his sentence being suspended and commuted to fines. As both parties left the courtroom, Chen walked over to Nguyen’s father, Nguyen Quoc Dong, and shook his hand.
At the press conference, the elder Nguyen said that despite the civil settlement, the assistance his family received had come solely from NGOs rather than the Taiwanese government. He also said that he did not think it was right for Taiwanese police to use guns, and that respect for life and human rights should be emphasized in police training, adding that he hopes similar cases do not happen in the future.
Taiwan’s National Police Agency (NPA) has said the Hoang Van Doan case has entered the legal stage and is now being handled by the Chiayi County Prosecutor’s Office. After receiving TIWA’s petition at the press conference, NPA Director of International Affairs Chen Hung-yao (陳鴻堯) said he was disappointed about the case.
Responding to TIWA’s wish that runaway workers are pursued by the National Immigration Agency (NIA), Chen said the police would cooperate with other governmental bodies in tracking down and punishing illegal foreign workers. He also called on migrant workers in Taiwan to ensure that they comply with local laws and regulations to prevent any accidents from happening.
TIWA researcher Chen Hsiu-lien (陳秀蓮) pointed out that the existence of escaping migrant workers carries social meanings. The government, she said, should realize that without powerful institutional oppression, migrant workers would have no need to escape.
There are presently about 50,000 missing migrant workers in Taiwan (out of about 680,000 in total), most of whom are Vietnamese or Indonesian. This is because Vietnamese migrant workers pay the highest brokerage fees. Indonesian migrant workers mostly work as domestic helpers or caretakers, so Taiwan’s Labor Standards Act (LSA) does not apply to them.
Under the oppressive structure of poor working conditions and not being allowed to switch employers freely, said Chen, migrant workers often have no choice but to escape.
In a Facebook post announcing the press conference, Chen said that Hoang Van Doan “left behind a two-year-old son, who has never met his father since he was born and never will.”
Chen also said that Nguyen’s father, Nguyen Quoc Dong, and his wife could not sleep at night without the help of sleeping pills. She added that he “always remembers the kindness that the Taiwan society shows him.”
Reflecting on last month’s civic settlement, the elder Nguyen’s attorney, Chiu Hsien-chi (邱顯智), posted the following on Facebook:
The trial began last week. I heard Nguyen Quoc Phi’s father say:
“Though deeply sad and heart-stricken from losing my son, I still think that Taiwan is a lovely country.”
Everyone listened to the interpreter translate what he had to say word by word. It was so silent in the court that even the sound of a needle dropping on the floor could be heard.
At last, he said:
“I will not hate the police. I only hope that after this incident, gun usage by the police be thoroughly reassessed. This is not only because I’m Vietnamese and the father of Nguyen Quoc Phi, but because it would make everyone living in Taiwan safer.”
After a pause, he continued:
“I hope the police can treat people with compassion!”
When I saw the clerk type the word ‘compassion,’ I was astounded.
The opposite of nine bullets that were shot at Nguyen Quoc Phi, and ended up killing him, turned out to be called:
This article originally appeared on the Chinese-language ASEAN edition of The News Lens. The original can be found here.
Translator: Lin Ying-jen
Editor: Nick Aspinwall (@Nick1Aspinwall)
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