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September 1998, Volume 5, Number 9

Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand

Indonesia. Between May 14-20, 1998, some 150,000 persons left Indonesia, including 71,000 Indonesians. At least 40,000 ethnic Chinese Indonesians fled to Hong Kong to escape anti-Chinese violence; some have applied for asylum in Hong Kong. However, Hong Kong is not a signatory of the 1953 United Nations refugee treaty, so the Chinese Indonesians do not have to be considered as refugees. Instead, they will be treated as ordinary tourists who can remain 14 days.

Indonesia celebrates its independence day on August 17, and hundreds of ethnic Chinese have flown to Hong Kong to avoid possible violence against them during celebrations. Rumors of riots against ethnic Chinese have been dismissed by the Indonesian military.

Hong Kong's government came under pressure in August to extend the visa-free stays of Chinese Indonesians to six months.

Indonesia has promised to end explicit discrimination against ethnic Chinese. For example, the Chinese label in their Indonesian passports is to be removed, and it will become unlawful to use the terms pribumi (native) and non-pribumi (non-native) in Indonesian laws. A National Commission for Examining Violence Against Women has been established, but it includes no ethnic Chinese. The Wall Street Journal reported that, in the aftermath of the riots and given continuing uncertainty in Indonesia, some ethnic Chinese women are learning English and seeking husbands in the US and Canada.

Philippines. In 1997, 747,696 Filipinos went abroad as workers, including 559,227 who worked on land (land-based) and 188,469 sailors (sea-based). The Philippine Bureau of Immigration inspects departure documents to ensure that Filipinos returning to overseas jobs have a "balik manggagawa" certificate, issued by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration and certifying that a worker is returning to the same jobsite or employer. Many balik manggagawa are forged so that Filipinos can go overseas for jobs for the first time.

A Greek dictionary has included the term "Filipineza," a derogatory term for Filipino domestic helper. The Philippines government has lodged a formal complaint with the Greek government. There is a separate line for Filipino maids at the Athens airport.

The Philippine government warned maids in Hong Kong not to be enticed to accept sewing jobs in the US Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. There are believed to be about 15,000 Filipinos and 15,000 Chinese in the CNMI. Some of the Filipinas reportedly believe that they are going to be living as they would in the US: the acting press secretary for the Marianas' Governor said that "one of the big problems is people can't save the kind of money they could in Hong Kong." Mariana employers are required to pay at least HK$5000 a month, compared to HK$3860 for a maid in Hong Kong. In May, 1998, about 100 Chinese women staged a hunger strike to protest fees charged by their agents when they were taken from mainland China to Fiji to work in Chinese-owned garment factories there.

Nike announced on May 12, 1998 that workers in its Asian apparel factories must be at least 16, and at least 18 to work footwear factories. Nike also pledged to implement US Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards for indoor air quality in foreign factories and allow non-government organizations and an independent accounting firm to monitor working conditions in Nike contract operations overseas. Nike says that returning the production of sneakers to the US would add almost $100 to the current price. About 530,000 workers worldwide produce Nike products.

At least 12 Filipinos in Saudi Arabia have been arrested for having a Bible or for evangelical activities; preaching a faith other than Islam is a crime under Saudi Arabia's Shariah law.

Thailand. The Thai Ministry of Public Health announced that illegal immigrants suffering from any of following seven diseases would be deported: tuberculosis, leprosy, elephantiasis, syphilis, drug addiction, alcoholism and mental illness or retardation. Although there is no mandatory testing for HIV--mandatory HIV testing is considered a violation of human rights--authorities test almost all apprehended illegal immigrants.

To reduce the strain on Thai health facilities, employers of foreign workers will have to provide each worker with a 500-baht credit card that can be used to obtain medical services. On August 7, the Interior Ministry announced that Thai employers would have another 60 days to register illegal workers and ensure that they have health examinations. Any further extensions will be decided by the Thai cabinet.

On the Malaysian-Thai border, there are residents with dual nationality. In an effort to reduce cross-border crime, Thailand will require Thai residents who currently have dual nationality to select one nationality and use on the documents of that country to cross the border.

As early as the 17th century, ethnic Chinese have immigrated to Thailand. By the late 1940s, there were an estimated two million Chinese migrants in Thailand. Today there are an estimated six million Chinese Thais, most of whom live in Bangkok. One out of 10 Thais is believed to have some Chinese ancestry. Almost two-thirds of the members of the Thai Parliament are Chinese Thai, including the prime minister.

A report in the Bangkok Post found that Chinese Thais continue to celebrate some uniquely Chinese holidays such as Chinese New Year, but most consider themselves Thais. Many Chinese Thais cannot speak Mandarin; some adopt Thai names and marry ethnic Thais. Many attribute the easy assimilation of the Chinese to Buddhism, which teaches tolerance.

Vietnam. Vietnam's Ministry of Labour, War Invalids and Social Affairs (MoLISA) recommended expanding overseas labor exports to the Persian Gulf countries and Taiwan, and maintaining its share of the foreign worker market in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, where there are still 200,000 Vietnamese. Vietnam hopes to export 150,000 workers a year over the next seven years, giving it about 500,000 workers temporarily abroad at any one time. Since 1990, overseas workers have remitted about $1 billion a year.

"Ethnic Chinese flee Indonesia in fear of riots," Hong Kong Standard, August 14, 1998. "My Cup of Tea: Marked as domestic helpers," BusinessWorld, August 11, 1998. Aphaluck Bhatiasevi, "Illegal immigrants found with diseases on list face deportation," Bangkok Post, July 31, 1998. Jesse Wong, "Ethnic Chinese Women Seek to Wed to Flee Fear, Violence in Indonesia," Wall Street Journal, July 21, 1998. Edward Tang, "A race apart, yet still one people," Bangkok Post, July 19, 1998.