THE FIRST ISSUE OF FIHRM-AP - From Being Narrated to the Narrators: An Observation of and Reflection on the International Migration and Human Rights Forum, Oct. 20-22, 2021

Author profile - Hsuwen Yuan(Emily)

Hsuwen (Emily) is a research assistant of the Education Department, National Taiwan Museum(NTM), Taipei, Taiwan. Emily’s research mainly focuses on social inclusion and museum accessibility of international migration in Taiwan. She was assigned to start up the Immigration Docent Project within the museum in 2015. Immigration Docent Project provides multilingual tours (primarily Southeast Asian languages, English and Chinese) and helps the museum connect with migration communities. NTM and migration communities have achieved and initiated art festivals of Southeast Asian countries, exhibitions, educational activities, and interpretation of collections from Southeast Asian countries. The two parties have worked closely since 2016.

About National Taiwan Museum

National Taiwan Museum, established in 1908, is the oldest museum in Taiwan. In 1915, after two years of construction, the museum was completed, and it is one of the most noteworthy public buildings in Taiwan.For over a century, the museum has been standing in front of the Taipei Railway Station and has a rich collection, and its unique geographical position has made the National Taiwan Museum an essential landmark in Taipei. The collection and research in the museum continue to focus on the research of anthropology, earth sciences, zoology, botany, cultural diversity, and social inclusion to respond to the latest social trends the growing number of cross-national migrations. Through themed exhibitions, educational activities, publications, and various cross-cultural plans, the museum has achieved its educational goal to serve the public with diverse cultural backgrounds.


The National Human Rights Museum (NHRM) of Taiwan is a significant memorial place to remind Taiwanese never to forget the White Terror period, critical to Taiwan's democratic development and progress. The museum serves as an education center for the history of human rights violations, supports human rights issues, promotes human rights causes, and instills universal values to safeguard democracy and human rights in Taiwan.

An essential affiliation of the International Council of Museums (ICOM), the Federation of International Human Rights Museums (FIHRM) established and based its Asian-Pacific (FIHRM-AP) branch in the National Human Rights Museum of Taiwan with the support and recognition of FIHRN and related organizations, NGOs and professionals, .

NHRM and FIHRM-AP now have new missions to put domestic human rights issues under the global context of transnational migration and human rights concerns. The two have been addressing international human rights issues by building networks while serving as a platform/bridge to facilitate dialogues between governments, NGOs, museums, and transnational migration communities in Taiwan. Meanwhile, it is the first time that museum practitioners and NGOs workers engaged in face-to-face discussions, examined and worked together on international migration and human rights issues in Taiwan.

The Purpose and Inception of the Forum and Workshop

Contemporary museums now face multiple issues imposed by international migration flowing into destination cities. The primary concerns of this forum are how museums welcome migrants and counter stereotypes, discrimination, and xenophobia through cross-cultural dialogues. How do museums build up migration and human rights archives, maintain historical sites and artifacts, and safekeep personal items, stories, and collective memories? After profound discussion throughout this 3-day forum and workshop, a multitude of perspectives and experiences from Taiwan, Australia, India, the USA, Bangladesh, Tibet, and South Sudan informed a wide range of museology based practices, theories, and experiences responding to the rise of global migration and related human rights issues.


Program on October 20th: The Network of Museums for Migrants and Social Justice

Session 1: Developing a Program for Communication between Museums, Migrant (Workers) Community and the Public

Ms. Rohini Kappadath, General Manager, Immigration Museum, Museums Victoria, Australia, elaborated the following methods as the foundation for museum to practice human rights, such as:

  • Recognizing the new roles of museums;
  • Inspecting the obsolete museum policies
  • Constantly asking ourselves if we are tuned in to the voices of migration communities that we intend to work with in the future.

Rohini shared plenty of her work methodologies out her years of experiences at the Immigration Museum in Australia.

The following two speakers, Hsu-wen Yuan (Emily) and Ying-Hsuan Li, are from Taiwan. They presented the latest museum policies of the National Taiwan Museum and Kaohsiung Museum of Labor.

The first wave of migrant workers from the Southeast Asia (SEA) region arrived in Taiwan in the 1990s. As of 2021, there are over seven hundred thousand migrant workers and three hundred thousand immigrants from the SEA region in Taiwan. Migrant workers came to Taiwan to fulfill the demands from the infrastructure construction, offshore fisheries, manufacture industries, and domestic care. A majority of SEA immigrants came to Taiwan through marriage, and they became the fundamental source of labor and members of family units. However, Taiwan society has been entrenched in a culture of looking down on immigrants from the SEA region. Due to cultural and language barriers, stereotypes, and prejudices, these migrant workers and immigrants (foreign spouses) have been constantly misunderstood and mistreated in Taiwan.

One of the oldest museum established in Taiwan, the National Taiwan Museum in Taipei initiated the “Museum Tour in Multiple Languages Project” in 2015 which recruited SEA immigrants as museum docents to offer fellow migrants from the same region a museum experience without language barrier (Figure 1). Moreover, the museum also reached out to the migrant worker communities, and co-organized multicultural festivals with members of the communities hosting and arranging the programs (Figure 2). Thus, the immigrants and migrant workers can freely express and showcase the beauty of their cultures in the National Taiwan Museum.

Figure 1. A museum multilingual docent from Vietnam introducing museum architecture and history to a group of Vietnamese students.

Figure 1. A museum multilingual docent from Vietnam introducing museum architecture and history to a group of Vietnamese students.

Figure 2. Indonesian migrant workers performing traditional Balinese Kecak dance at the National Taiwan Museum. Mr. Fajar (middle front) of the Citizen Protection Department, the Indonesian Economic Representative Office in Taipei never misses the event.

Figure 2. Indonesian migrant workers performing traditional Balinese Kecak dance at the National Taiwan Museum. Mr. Fajar (middle front) of the Citizen Protection Department, the Indonesian Economic Representative Office in Taipei never misses the event.

The Kaohsiung Museum of Labor first featured Taiwanese laborers and now the focus has expanded to include migrant workers as well. The museum has curated an exhibition of migrant worker issues, offering a multitude of different perspectives. The curatorial process also involved local migrant workers to ensure that they can speak for themselves. Through the collaboration, the migrant workers can be the narrator and present their own culture in a public museum undeterred by the official narratives. Museums as  public and educational institutions should always remain critical and confront the society with the issues they should not look away.  

Session 2: “Transnational Migrants: Inclusivity and Exclusivity in Immigration Histories”

Prof. Chia-Li Chen, the moderator and a museum cultural equity practitioner, opened this session with a critical perspective. In her words: "the history of immigration is highly politically charged." In this session, the main argument and discussion centered around how museums facilitate the empowerment of immigrants while dealing with stereotypes and prejudice in society. Following is a summary of three significant concepts brought up by the presenters in this session:

The documentation of the history of transnational migration has never been done by the migrants themselves and now they can speak for themselves.

The session started with the museum practitioner from Paris, Ms. Agnès Arquez Roth. Her presentation showed how she started her project in finding a "proper space." Then, Ms. Roth tried hard to respond to nowadays immigration issues in France through the project. If we look at Europe as a large continent without boundaries, the colossal number of migrants in different historical periods took place in a very complex context. The concepts of different or diverse immigration communities are not a part of the mainstream policy while encountering migration issues in France. The national policy of immigration in France has a long history of one cultural identity instead of allowing diverse cultural identities. In Ms. Roth's work and effort, they have been working hard on different modes of integrating immigration communities and to include their history as a part of French history by inviting them to collaborate with the museum. Even though it is a very challenging task, it is a must and a better method to reach out to and connect with immigration communities. Not only to include the immigrants but also to allow museum practitioners to deal with the whole new ways of communication that they never used before.

Immigration heritage should be carefully and well preserved so that the immigrants can have a "space" to narrate their histories.

The work on immigration heritage should confront, argue and transform stereotypes and prejudice against migrants in different historical period to enhance visibility and disccussion. Mr. Ed Tepporn presented the diaspora of Chinese migrants or Asian immigrants in the USA. The Asian migration communities in America have been treated by local society or even the government policy unfairly from the 18th century onward. In 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in the United States, Asian immigrants became the target of a series of hate crimes. Tepporn revealed the early-time detention of Asian immigrants in Angel Island Immigration Station. While European immigrants landed on the east coast of the States with enthusiasm and positive expectations, those from Asia and Pacific Islands who arrived at the west coast primarily through Angel Island Immigration Station suffered in mistreatment which set them apart from the European immigrants. By preserving the landscape and buildings, the ordeal and stories of the Asian immigrants can be shown to the public and included in contemporary museum narratives.

Museum practitioners and policymakers should encourage more immigrants to be involved in museum narratives.

They should also be able to form networks and partnerships with immigrant communities as it is now the primary work for contemporary museums, according to Chia-Ni Wu, the Associate Curator & Leader of  Public Service Division, National Museum of Taiwan History, as different waves of immigration in Taiwan's history exbibit multiple dimensions of migrants’ lived experiences. In the beginning, the exhibition and content of the National Museum of Taiwan History focused on ethnic groups instead of individual migrants. After a few years, the exhibition shifted its focus to individual stories. The mission to build trust between the museum and migrant communities is time-consuming as Wu pointed out. However, this is the prerequisite for any work which seeks to include and collaborate with migrant communities.

After Taiwan's experience, the session took a dismaying turn as we heard the account of the Tibet refugees in India. Mr. Tashi Phuntsok gave us a quite disturbing presentation on the history, the causes of Tibetan diaspora and the challenges faced by the displaced people of Tibet. His talk traced the beginning of the exile of Tibetan people led by the the 14th Dalai Lama in 1959, ten years after the Chinese civil war. The exodus continued to this day. Mr. Phuntsok deployed the comparative methodology to illustrate responding policies along the three exile routes: India, Bhutan, and Nepal. In India, the government made the Tibetan Rehabilitation Policy as the guideline for standardization of the facilities used to accommodate the Tibetan refugees sheltered by each State Government to protect the human rights of Tibetans. In contrast, Nepal in 2019 signed a treaty with China which dramatically increased the likelihood of arrest and deportation of Tibetan refugees in Nepal. The Tibet Museum preserves the history and suffering of Tibetans in exile and presents the controversies of these policies. 


Program on October 21st: GITJR (Global Initiative for Justice, Truth and Reconciliation) and Migrant Rights

Session 1: Truth, Memories and Justice

In this session, Braden Paynter, the director of Methodology and Practice, ICSC, moderated the session with presenters from the United States, East Africa and Taiwan. They shared their practices of documenting the truth and facts of human rights violations.

One of the challenges is that to collect the evidence of human rights violations, the victims would have to revisit their traumatic experiences. Therefore, trust has to be built first by providing a secure and private environment for the victims to freely give true accounts without feeling ashamed or threatened. After victims feel safe in the presence of a support system, they can be encouraged to speak for themselves. Strong support from the staff or social workers of the shelter for the victim is required along the way. 

Session 2:  The Shelter, Caring and Support Systems for Migrants

After WWII and around the 1990s, local and international NGOs and support systems for minorities, refugees, and disadvantaged groups emerged rapidly in response to conflicts such as genocides, civil wars in different parts of the world.

As Mr. Mofidul Hoque described it when the Rohingya genocide occurred, reports and exhibition of the genocide and refugee crisis of Rohingya people drawn international attention. Mr. Mofidul Hoque urged that the Rohingia crisis is a global problem and a global problem calls for global actions. Should the international community fails to intervene a regional conflict like the tragedy of Rohingya, the neighboring countries should at least reach out and quickly act to prevent the situation from worsening.  Scholars and activists should produce more research and publications to inform the international community. Then, they should also collaborate to find immediate, quick, and permanent solutions to stop the persecution of ethnic minorities in Myanmar.

Mr. Mofidul Hoque’s presentation was followed by two presenters from Taiwan: Ms. Kaili Lee, the Director of GOH-Migrants Garden of Hope Foundation, and Hsiu-Lien Chen, a researcher of Taiwan International Workers Association (TIWA). Both organizations provide shelters and support systems for migrant workers in Taiwan. They also provide legal consultantation for migrant workers who are abused, sexually assaulted, and injured at work. TIWA is one of the first NGOs that drew society’s attention to migrant workers’ human rights issues in Taiwan through compelling protests (Figure 3-5) and lobbying work which changed regulations to better protect migrant workers’ rights.

Figure 3. The biannual migrant worker parade on January 16, 2022. The 2022 theme is the “Freedom to Change Employer.”

Figure 3. The biannual migrant worker parade on January 16, 2022. The 2022 theme is the “Freedom to Change Employer.”

Figure 4. The barricade is a symbol of the unfair regulation which prohibits migrant workers from freely transfer jobs.

Figure 4. The barricade is a symbol of the unfair regulation which prohibits migrant workers from freely transfer jobs.

Figure 5. After the announcement, the crowds will push down the bamboo fence (jail bars) to fight with the unjust law.

Figure 5. After the announcement, the crowds will push down the bamboo fence (jail bars) to fight with the unjust law.

Migrant Rights Training Workshop for Professionals on Oct. 22

From Minority to Majority; from being narrated to the narrators

Finally, the workshop explored who holds the “power” to decide what gets exhibited and to interpret in a destination country where the human rights issues of the transnational migrants used be the least concern of the society. As global economy continues to drive international migration, related human rights issues are on the rise and spans across continents and national borders. Political issues and conflicts in certain areas have also been at work behind this global phenomenon: exacerbating migrant problems in various countries. Thus no society can look away from the fact that we are in a new era when migration to various degrees constitutes our society—it is only a matter of “who comes first.”

In this light, “migrants” actually constitute the “majority” of the society and each society should embrace its migrant communities as its new social capital. Cross-cultural understanding goes a long way in helping a society to be open-minded and inclusive. Only when museums take the lead in reflecting, rethinking and embracing these challenges by connecting with different migrant communities, can museums become a platform for the migrants to speak up and thus facilitates social engagement. Museums, cultural institutions, museum practitioners, and scholars should continue to work together and educate the public. As governments may stay indifferent to migration and related human rights issues, or even play the role of perpetrators, it is ever more important for museums, cultural institutions, NGOs, and professionals of different backgrounds to show solidarity by working closely together so that the issues we addressed in this forum would never become a lost cause.


The discussion of the 3-day forum suggests that museums across the world have the responsibility to find different ways to tackled human rights issues. The ability to collaborate with the migrant communities is essential but acquires well-trained ability to conduct cross-cultural engagement. Furthermore, museums are tasked to build well-maintained archives and curate exhibitions with critical perspectives calling for social awareness of transnational migration and human rights issues. Last but not least, museums should collaborate with different NGOs and schools and build up networks to stay informed of different social aspects and promote the cause through good networks.