Indonesia suspended its university internship program in Taiwan after a media report alleged that hundreds of student participants were made to work in factories and eat meals containing pork, the foreign ministry said Thursday.
Indonesia’s Economic and Trade Office (IETO) in Taiwan was asking Taiwanese authorities for clarification about the media report, said Arrmanatha Nasir, spokesman at the Indonesian foreign ministry. A lawmaker in Taiwan had alleged that the Indonesian students were forced to work four days a week instead of attending classes.
“Indonesia will temporarily stop sending students under the study-internship scheme until there’s an agreement on better arrangements,” Arrmanatha said in a statement sent to BenarNews.
Meanwhile, Indonesian legislator Martin Hutabarat urged the government to investigate the allegations.
“I think the Taiwanese government will seriously check the veracity of the news for the sake of good relations with Indonesia. Our government must move quickly to find the truth,” Martin told BenarNews.
In 2016, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen launched the New Southbound Policy (NSP), an exchange program to promote cooperation between Taiwan and 18 Asian countries.
About 6,000 Indonesians are studying in Taiwan, including 1,000 participants of the internship program enrolled at eight universities, according to the foreign ministry.
IETO has urged Taiwanese authorities to take steps to ensure that the welfare and interests of Indonesian students were protected.
Last week, Taiwanese legislator Ko Chih-en said that six universities had sent students under an NSP program to work in factories, according to the report in Taiwan News, the oldest English-language newspaper in Taiwan.
Ko cited a case where 300 Indonesian students enrolled at Hsing Wu University were forced to work four days a week at a factory where they packaged contact lenses for 10 hours per shift. They were allowed to attend classes two days a week and have one day of rest, the report said.
Kendra Chen, a spokesman for the Taipei Economic and Trade Office in Jakarta, dismissed the report as false.
“What we want to emphasize here is Taiwan always looks after the welfare of members of the Indonesian diaspora in Taiwan – be they students, workers or their spouses,” Chen told BenarNews.
Officials from Taiwan’s Ministry of Education and the IETO visited Hsing Wu University on Thursday to seek clarification, Chen said.
“The Indonesian students there denied there were problems as the report suggested. A total of 217 students at Hsing Wu University even co-signed a letter and made a video to show their support for the university,” he said.
Chen said the students believed allegations were made by people with bad faith, adding that the Taiwanese trade office in Jakarta would hold a news conference on Friday to address the issue.
Ko had also alleged that the students were fed meals containing pork – which is forbidden by the Muslim culture. Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world.
The Indonesian Council of Ulema urged Taiwan to respect religious freedom.
“It is best to avoid policies that are detrimental and contrary to international law,” said Muhyiddin Junaidi, leader of the council’s foreign affairs department.