Muslim Leader Brings Succor to Taiwan’s ‘Stateless’ Children

Muslim Leader Brings Succor to Taiwan’s ‘Stateless’ Children
Photo Credit :RT/達志影像
What you need to know

‘Stateless’ children of Muslim mothers face a tough start in life in Taiwan. But one man is doing what he can to help them and their mothers. And so far he has done that without any government assistance.

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An increasing number of children born in Taiwan to Indonesian mothers are classified as “stateless,” according to a local Muslim leader.

The News Lens International (TNLI) recently sat down with Mohammad Ma, executive director of Taipei Grand Mosque, at his Muslim shelter. Located on the second floor of a small apartment complex, the shelter houses around 30 Muslim migrant workers.

Ma has been working with Muslim migrant workers in Taiwan for 18 years, providing them with legal and financial aid. In 2014, Ma set up the shelter to take in Muslims in need, most of whom are migrant workers who have left their employers and are waiting for permission from the National Immigration Agency (NIA) to return to their home country.

Migrant workers who breach their contract with their employer or who leave their job without warning are regarded as having “escaped” in Taiwan. These escaped migrant workers violated Immigration Act and have to turn themselves in to the NIA to be investigated before they can depart from Taiwan.

While the migrant workers undergo the complex legal process and wait for their permission to return home, Ma’s shelter has became a second home for these poor and helpless people.

Most of the escaped migrant workers left their employers because they were treated badly. But for female migrant workers, there is another reason for leaving their job: getting pregnant.

Ma told TNLI that in recent years, a growing number of female Indonesian migrant workers have come to him for help after escaping from their Taiwanese employers. Some of them were pregnant. Some even came with their children.

These children who were given birth by escaped migrant workers are often considered “stateless.”

Since their Indonesian mothers cannot get back to Indonesia and acquire nationality for their children, their offspring are not admitted as Indonesian citizens. And even if their fathers are Taiwanese, if they do not admit the children are theirs, the children will not receive Republic of China citizenship.

Because Taiwan is a jus sanguinis country, children born to overstaying foreigners cannot obtain resident certificates, National Health Insurance (NHI), or compulsory education in Taiwan.

Ma said that 90 percent of Indonesians practice Islam, and most of the women give birth to the babies because abortion conflicts with their religious beliefs.

“Unmarried pregnancy is also against Muslim beliefs, so I am mad at those mothers who came to me,” Ma said. “But I will still help them in the end.”

Called “Papa” by the women he helps, Ma has spent up to NT$3 million (US$94,000) helping migrant workers and their children over the past eight years. He does not receive any financial support from the government.

“The biggest expenses are the babies’ medical fees. Since they don’t have NHI, the fees are very high,” Ma said.

Ma said there are currently about 330,000 female migrant workers in Taiwan and most of them are long-term caretakers.

“They’re here to help Taiwan deal with long-term care problems, but they don’t even get basic respect,” Ma said.

Ma refers to a case in which a female migrant worker, working as a family caregiver, was raped by the employer and became pregnant. After she gave birth, the employer took the child and fired the mother

“I made efforts to reunite them and send them back to Indonesia,” he said.

Ma will officially establish the Taipei Hui Islamic Aid Foundation (臺北市回族生活扶助協會) on Sept. 4, providing services similar to the current shelter. Ma said that with the foundation registered as a corporation, it will be able to receive government subsidies.

“I’m planning to set up another Muslim shelter in the Yonghe or Zhonghe areas to help more people,” he said. “The most important thing for me is to help as many Muslim as I can. I also hope the government and the society can see the migrant workers’ needs and lend them a hand.”

First Editor: Edward White
Second Editor: J. Michael Cole