Stranded Vietnamese Waiting for Answers After Kinmen Bridge Contract Canned

Stranded Vietnamese Waiting for Answers After Kinmen Bridge Contract Canned
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'People are still stranded': Vietnamese men brought to Kinmen to construct a major bridge project remain in crowded living quarters on the island and waiting for new jobs in Taiwan. Several of them are victims of human trafficking schemes, and are accruing interest on illegal debts owed to brokers.

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Dozens of Vietnamese workers remain stranded on Taiwan’s Kinmen Island with no pay and mounting debt almost a month after the National Expressway Engineering Bureau terminated the contract of the company building the Kinmen Bridge.

The bridge, which will connect Kinmen Island and Lieyu Islands (烈嶼) just off the coast of southwest China, has been marred by delays. The contractor, Kuo Deng Construction Co, had been criticized by national lawmakers for construction falling behind schedule.

More than 100 Vietnamese migrant workers are understood to have been among those whose jobs were lost when work was halted in late June.

Reverend Peter Nguyen Van Hung works with migrant workers facing human trafficking and other exploitation issues in Taiwan. The Taoyuan-based Hung, who founded the Vietnamese Migrant Workers & Brides Office, travelled to Kinmen earlier this month to work with legal aid lawyers to help the men.

After negotiations with local officials – following widespread, albeit short-lived media coverage – a deal was reached that will see salaries for June to be paid, including some severance pay.

Hung says most of the group decided to return to Vietnam. But about 30, including some men who owe thousands of dollars to brokers back home, have stayed and are seeking work in Taiwan. However, they have so-far been unable to find other work in Kinmen. Due to regulatory restrictions they are not allowed to transfer to another part of Taiwan to work.

“It is a little island,” Hung told The News Lens International. “Who will employ them?”

A fresh bidding round for a new contractor has closed and construction is set to restart in October, according to the Kinmen County Government.

Meanwhile, the remaining men live in “really tiny” living quarters and some are starting to show physical signs of the psychological stress they are under, Hung says.

He says some of the men were initially unable to afford the full, US$6,000, broker fee in Vietnam. They paid around US$3,000 and have to make monthly repayments, out of their wages.

“This is illegal,” Hung says, adding that it amounts to a form of bonded labor which violates human trafficking law in Taiwan and internationally.

He continues to work on the case with the Legal Aid Foundation.

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Photo Credit: Vietnamese Migrant Workers and Brides Office in Taiwan
One of the Vietnamese men stranded on Kinmen, July 2016.

First Editor: Olivia Yang
Second Editor: J. Michael Cole