What you need to know
A social worker with a Taiwanese NGO reflects on helping a man through the impossible grief of losing his son to preventable police violence in a faraway land.
Editor’s note: On Aug. 31, 2017, Nguyen Quoc Phi (阮國非), a Vietnamese runaway migrant worker in Hsinchu, was caught allegedly stealing a car. When police arrived, he threw stones at the officers and tried to flee. The police fatally fired nine shots at Nguyen. They were accused of failing to assist Nguyen as he lost blood and laid helplessly on the street.
Afterwards, his father, Nguyen Quoc Dong (阮國同), wrote a personal letter, conveyed through the Taiwan International Worker’s Association (TIWA), which questioned why his son would steal a car as he did not know how to drive.
On Aug. 28, 2018, Nguyen’s family reached a civil settlement with police. Terms were not made public, but the amount was higher than the standard NT$2,500,000 (US$81,175) loss of life compensation issued for wrongful use of weapons by police. The family accepted the outcome and agreed to a suspended sentence for policeman Chen Chung-wen (陳崇文), whom the judicial panel ruled used his gun improperly.
The author of this article is Chen Hsiu-lien (陳秀蓮), a researcher at TIWA. Below, she details her experience hosting the father of the deceased in Taiwan.
“Thank you so much, I wish you all good health.” — Nguyen Quoc Dong
A year ago, as I traveled to the airport to pick up Nguyen Quoc Dong for the first time, all I knew about him was that he was an old man who had suddenly lost his son. I stood at the arrivals waiting point without any specific impression of who this person might be. I never would have imagined that, when he did finally arrive and walk through the automatic glass doors to the meeting area, he would be using a fruit crate as a suitcase. It had contained fruit that he had brought to venerate his son, but it was all confiscated by Taiwanese customs.
Once he came through the doors and saw his daughter – Nguyen Quoc Phi’s younger sister – he burst into tears, crying so uncontrollably that he couldn’t even stand straight. We found him a seat and he took out a few pieces of paper covered in his handwriting. He explained their purpose while continuing to sob lightly. Through his daughter’s translation, I discovered that they were letters detailing his opinion on the incident that he had prepared for both the Vietnamese representative office in Taipei and the Taiwan police force.
I later discovered that he was a Vietnam War veteran, complete with a handful of service medals he had carried with him. He was a little stubborn, believing that the government in Taiwan would do right by his son. In truth, he was a bit difficult to communicate with at first, but of course we had not yet forged a bond of trust.
During that time, my daily routine consisted of getting up at 5 a.m., leaving the house at 6 a.m., arriving in Hsinchu at 8 a.m., then rushing off to the police station for consultations, discussions with lawyers, and local rituals. I continually encouraged Nguyen to speak with the media in protest. We went together to the Control Yuan and the Presidential Palace as part of our push to bring more attention to this case of police brutality against a migrant worker.
I was also very grateful to Lu Bu (呂布) and Chiu Hsien-chi (邱顯智), two Taiwanese friends of the late Nguyen Quoc Phi (who was often known in Taiwan as ‘A-Phi’ 阿非). Once I had dragged them both into helping, they were very happy to put in the effort to seek justice. I’m also thankful for the unwavering support of a small set of reporters.
On Sept. 3, a reporter asked Nguyen why he seemed emotionally implacable considering that he had lost his son. He replied that crying would be a sign that he had already lost. I only saw him break down twice – that first time at the airport, and the second when Chen Chung-wen (陳崇文), the policeman who fatally shot his son, appeared to lack sincerity when he paid respects to the victim by burning a joss stick.
Nyugen was so dismayed that he fell to the ground, at which point A-Phi’s sister, known in Taiwan as A-Co (阿草), broke a plastic chair with her bare hands. And if I’m not mistaken, after the footage of A-Phi being put into the ambulance was released, his father had to be sent to the emergency room.
Every time I took him to the airport, he would say the same two things to me: that I had to go visit them in Vietnam, and the reasons why he still hadn’t bought any cattle. The last time I took him to the airport, he showed me a video of the previous day’s press conference someone had sent to him. With a smile, he pointed at me in the video, he said Hsiu-lien, Hsiu-lien. Because we still could not communicate, all we could do was smile and nod to each other.
I may never know if we handled Nguyen’s case successfully, because there are some losses that can never be made up for. We can only try and find certain answers from those losses and try to move on.
“Thank you so much, I wish you all good health.”
This was the line the elder Nguyen would always end his speeches with, and I used to think that this sort of blessing was really very ordinary. However, I now know that even though it is very common, it is not something so easily achieved. Regardless of whether or not I see him again in the future, my wish is that he will stay healthy, buy some cattle, and realize his son’s dreams.
One year on from Nguyen Quoc Phi’s death, his parents were still reliant on sleeping pills in order to stay asleep for more than four hours. Every time his father came to Taiwan, he explained to me that because of the couple’s physical condition, they still hadn’t bought any cattle as they didn’t have the strength or energy to look after them. They would then express that he would always remember the kindness that Taiwan had shown to them.
Just before returning to Vietnam, Nguyen Phoc Dong went to the police department’s press conference to thank Taiwan for their assistance in his son’s case. In addition to this, in the last year we have had several other cases where runaway migrant workers have lost their lives. One in particular, Hoang Van Doan (黃文團), was found dead in Alishan with his hands cuffed together. Back home in Vietnam, he has a two-year-old who has never seen his father, and now never will.
This article originally appeared on the Chinese-language ASEAN edition of The News Lens. The original can be found here.
Translator: Zeke Li
Editor: Nick Aspinwall (@Nick1Aspinwall)
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