Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Fan Yun (范雲) and civic groups on Wednesday called on the Ministry of Education (MOE) to take immediate action to prevent foreign students from being forced to work as cheap labor.
An article published on Monday in The Reporter, a Taipei-based online news outlet, said that 16 Ugandan students enrolled at Chung Chou University of Science and Technology (CCUT) in Changhua County in 2019 worked as factory interns for long hours and low pay.
The students could not refuse to work due to substantial tuition debts, the report said.
The students had been promised scholarships and courses taught in English, but CCUT failed to provide either, it said.
Fan told a news conference in Taipei that the students’ experiences were not unique, but that the ministry had done nothing to effectively prevent such exploitation.
Taiwan Association for Human Rights secretary-general Shih Yi-hsiang (施逸翔) said the Ugandans’ case constituted human trafficking because of the forced labor.
Collines Mugisha, one of the Ugandan students, said he used to work more than 10 hours per day until he transferred to Providence University in Taichung last year.
Mugisha, who had hoped to study smart automation, said that he worked as a computer numerical control machine operator, a construction site worker and in logistics during his two years at CCUT.
Fan called on the ministry to launch an investigation, saying that it should offer immediate assistance to the Ugandan students still enrolled at CCUT.
The ministry should evaluate more carefully universities that want to recruit foreign students, and ensure that the schools can provide international students with suitable courses, as well as internship opportunities in line with the students’ area of study, she said.
The ministry said in a statement on Wednesday that a preliminary investigation showed that CCUT had committed “serious violations,” but failed to outline assistance it might provide the students.
In a separate statement, it said that it would report to prosecutors any university or employer suspected of trafficking foreign students or practicing forced labor.
The ministry has forbidden CCUT from recruiting foreign students and would cut the university’s subsidies, the statement said.
On Monday, a CCUT representative said that the university never promised to provide courses taught in English, adding that the school had set up scholarships, but it was possible that the foreign students did not apply for them or their applications were rejected.
The university declined to comment on reports that the Ugandan students were sent to factories to work long hours.
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