On August 26th in the waters off the coast of Miaoli County, to avoid being caught by coast guard patrols and to get rid of evidence, the crews of two speedboats carrying illegal immigrants from mainland China threw their cargo of 26 women into the sea. The result was that six women tragically drowned. This incident not only brought the increasing problem of illegal mainland immigrants to the forefront of national debate, but also initiated renewed critical examination of human rights concerns in Taiwan.
A coastguard vessel patrolling off the coast of Miaoli's Tunghsiao discovered two suspected immigrant-smuggling speedboats on August 26th. After outflanking the boats in an effort to inspect them, coastguard crewmembers witnessed a stream of mainland women being thrown off the speedboats into the seas. The coast guard crewmembers immediately set out to save the women. Thereafter, a general air, sea, and land mobilization took place in an effort to simultaneously rescue the women and catch the perpetrators. In the aftermath, one woman was rescued, six drowned, and the remaining 19 were captured on the coast. After fleeing the scene, the two boats were discovered on the Penghu Islands and their crews arrested.
When this news broke, it prompted a public outcry. It was closely followed by the capture on the 27th and the 28th of yet another two batches of illegal female immigrants. The two groups of illegal immigrants, totalling over 40 women, came ashore in eastern Taiwan. Women from every province of China are being smuggled to Taiwan one group after another. There are always those willing to risk their lives and take up where those before have failed in order to get to Taiwan. The result is that the illegal immigration problem is worsening day by day.
According to statistics from the National Police Administration, there has been a steady increase in illegal immigration from China in recent years. In the past there was an annual average of around 1,500 illegal immigrants, but last year the figure rose to 2,000-plus. At the same time, the ratio of female immigrants has risen to more than 70% of the total. This reveals that illegal immigration problem is no longer just a case of simple laborers coming to Taiwan in order to reap financial rewards, but has already developed into a serious problem with organized criminal gangs manipulating events from behind the scenes.
Analysis of the reasons for the rampant increase in illegal immigration emphasizes the factors of huge illicit profits, the trend towards organized crime, and the difficulties of investigation.
According to the descriptions of people familiar with the inner workings of illegal immigration, snakehead gang "hunters" first gather together people from all across China who wish to illegally enter Taiwan. They attract young women to the Fujian coast with promises of high earnings in Taiwan. They wait until after they've collected together a few dozen women, and then put to sea by night. At sea the boats are met by Taiwanese fishing vessels or speedboats, which carry the passengers to the coast of Taiwan. After stealing onto land, the gangs take their women to "auction centers," where sex industry procurers set the prices based on the women's good looks. From this you can get a glimpse of just how well this criminal activity is organized, and of the extent of connivance with the gangs.
Even with the sharp increase in investigations in recent years and continued risks to illegal immigrants, the phenomenon of illegal immigration to Taiwan has markedly increased. There are still countless desperate people ready to risk danger in order to have a better life.
On the Taiwan side, huge illicit profits are the biggest temptation. The estimated price for bringing one woman from the mainland is roughly NT$200,000. By smuggling over 25 people in one go, the criminals can reap a profit of NT$5 million. Even after the money is carved up between the upper, middle, and lower echelons of the gang, gang members still earn quite a large profit. If you add in the money made by the women after being sold-roughly NT$3000 per client-and figure that smugglers carry in 400-500 women each month, this represents a moneymaking venture worth NT$200-300 million.
Moreover, gaps in coverage by coastguard patrols coupled with legal loopholes have resulted in snakehead gangs becoming even more aggressive. The coastguard points out that in the early days, criminal gangs mainly used to get their cargo to the beaches using a sampan or raft. But lately they have all been using speedboats, and coastal patrols guarding against illegal immigration simply cannot catch up to them. They can only let the criminals get away.
In order to solve the mounting problem of illegal immigration, the Executive Yuan has passed an interministerial resolution that will set up centers in central and southern Taiwan to combat this illegal traffic in people. This action is coupled with serious measures that include increased punishments for members of snakehead smuggling gangs and their accomplices, sailing bans for captains and crews, invalidation of operating licenses, and the impoundment of vessels. Other measures include increased monitoring of vessels crossing the Taiwan Strait and 24-hour surveillance of the 80 easiest locations for smugglers to come ashore.
Premier Yu Shyi-kun expressed deep distress at the women's being thrown into the sea. He emphasized that Taiwan is a country founded on human rights, and that continued occurrences of this kind of cannot be tolerated. He also appealed to the Chinese government to squarely face the issue of repatriation of illegal immigrants and to engage in cross-strait negotiations.
National policy adviser Chai Sung-lin states that as the head of the Human Rights Association, he feels deep regret over these incidents. He also points out that this is a shame for all Taiwanese people. Humanitarianism is not based on nationality, skin color, or race. If Taiwan only cares about its own human rights, and overlooks those of other people, this will make a mockery of the ideal of a country founded on human rights.
The problem of illegal immigration is extremely far-reaching. It not only threatens Taiwan's public order, but also raises the question of how to reopen cross-strait negotiations so that both sides can work together to combat organized crime and to speed up the repatriation of illegal immigrants. To achieve this, the authorities on both sides must first set aside political problems and return to humanitarian concerns.
It has been noted that it was the sinking of a fishing vessel from Fujian Province several years ago, killing over 100 people, that prompted a restoration of cross-strait negotiations after nearly 50 years of breakdown. That event resulted in the signing of a historic agreement. The only way to solve the current illegal immigration problem is for both sides of the Strait to work together. Otherwise, it will be impossible to put an end to the shameful behavior of viewing human beings as illegal cargo that can be thrown overboard to avoid being caught.