Taiwan activists slam 'discriminatory' coronavirus migrant curbs

Taiwanese rights activists on Thursday urged authorities to revoke a “discriminatory” ban on migrant workers going outside after a coronavirus outbreak spread to the island’s lucrative tech sector.

The local government in central Miaoli county this week imposed a stay indoors order on all migrant workers unless they were explicitly commuting to work.

The order came after four electronics companies reported clusters among their workforce, which includes many low paid migrants from nearby countries like Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines.

“Taiwanese can go out as long as they wear masks but migrant workers are subjected to different treatment,” Taiwan Association for Human Rights secretary general Shih Yi-Hsiang told AFP. 

“This is an absurd, selective and discriminatory measure.”

“This spate of cluster infections also involve Taiwanese workers. Viruses know no nationalities,” he added.

Several labour and civil groups also denounced the ban.

Taiwan markets itself as one of Asia’s most progressive democracies with a government that promotes and embraces human rights. 

But the island has long come under criticism for how it treats migrant workers.

Taiwan emerged largely unscathed from the pandemic last year with just a few hundred cases and single-digit deaths thanks to one of the world’s best coronavirus responses. 

But it is now battling a sudden surge of the virus as infections jumped to more than 12,000 with 361 deaths after a cluster initially detected among airline pilots spread. 

The government has since raised its pandemic alert level and imposed stricter social distancing rules until June 28.

Clusters have been detected in Taiwan’s crucial semiconductor industry, which is currently operating at full capacity to meet a worldwide shortage in chips. 

King Yuan Electronics Company, a leading chip testing and packaging company, as well as subsidiary of tech giant Foxconn have both had to suspend some operations after workers tested positive for the coronavirus.

Miaoli county chief Hsu Yao-chang defended the ban on migrant workers going outside, saying the authorities “have no other choice” as the number of migrants tested positive is much higher than domestic workers. 

“High-tech companies form an important economic supply chain and we hope they won’t become a chain to spread the pandemic,” he told a virtual press conference Wednesday.

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