Taiwan improved Muslim-friendly travel environment in 2019: report

Muslims celebrating Eid al-Fitr at a Taipei event in 2019/ CNA photo June 9, 2019

WASHINGTON (CNA) — Taiwan continued to improve its travel environment for Muslims last year, but caregivers in the country were still unable to attend weekly religious services due to their lack of time off, according to a U.S. religion report released Wednesday.

The 2019 International Religious Freedom Report, released annually by the U.S. State Department, cited the Chinese-Muslim Association as saying that Taiwan has continued its efforts to create a Muslim-friendly travel environment.

Taiwan has increased “training, Muslim-friendly hotels and halal restaurants by 20 percent annually,” the association said, which is why the country has become increasingly popular with Muslim tourists.

Other steps the country has taken include building new prayer rooms in public spaces such as train stations, libraries and tourist destinations, the association said.

In addition, the Taiwan Adventist Hospital in Taipei has become the country’s first hospital certified halal, as part of a collaboration with the city government to boost medical tourism by making hospitals in the city more accommodating to Muslim visitors, it said.

However, the report reiterated concerns from the past two years that Taiwan’s labor law fails to guarantee a weekly rest day for domestic workers and caregivers in Taiwan, many of whom are migrants.

This, of course, limits these workers’ ability to attend weekly religious services, the report pointed out.

Legislators in Taiwan, who made amendments to the labor law in 2019, did not address this concern, the report noted, although the Ministry of Labor released statements calling for employers to respect their workers’ religions and allowing them to attend religious events.

Another point of concern was from the Tibet Religious Foundation, which reported that Tibetan Buddhist monks continue to be unable to obtain resident visas for religious work, even though Taiwan typically grants visas to other religious practitioners.

Because of this, these monks have to fly to Thailand every two months to renew their visas, the foundation said.

The authorities in Taiwan said, however, that this is not due to religious reasons, but “based on general rules governing foreigners who use travel permits,” the report said.

The monks, who are Tibetans residing in India but who do not have Indian citizenship, use Indian Identity Certificates instead of passports to travel to other countries, the report noted.

The report also listed major events related to religion that occurred in Taiwan last year, including the appointment of Pusin Tali as Taiwan’s first Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom.

Tali is the principal of the Yu-Shan Theological College and Seminary and a member of the indigenous Atayal tribe.

Also in 2019, the American Institute in Taiwan co-hosted “A Civil Society Dialogue on Securing Religious Freedom in the Indo-Pacific Region” with the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy in March, the first of its kind in Asia, the report said.