10/19/2009, 00.00
SOUTH KOREA

Seoul: human rights activists protest expulsion of migrant workers

by Theresa Kim Hwa-young
The government has hardened policy in order to identify and expel workers without the right residency papers. In six months, 17,000 migrants lost their job and were deported.
Seoul (AsiaNews) – “Free Minu! Stop Crackdown!” shouted members of a coalition of 23 groups, including the Migrant Workers Trade Union in front of the Hwaseong Immigration Detention Centre in Gyeonggi Province last Friday. They were demanding the release of Minod Moktan (AKA Minu), a 33-year-old Nepali musician and cultural activist who, like other migrant workers, is undocumented and has been the target for a government expulsion order.

Some labour analysts and human rights observers are saying that the government must re-evaluate its positions on issues facing undocumented migrant workers, as they have integrated into Korean society.

In Minu’s case, he immigrated to South Korea in 1992 and went to work in restaurants and garment factories in the Uijeongbu area.

During this time, he campaigned actively on social issues, produced a documentary on migrant worker human rights and served as head of the executive committee for the Migrant Worker Film Festival. He has also been the recipient of a number of awards, but now he could be deported.

Prior to this recent target crackdown, the Korea Immigration Service had arrested and deported undocumented migrant workers , in 2007 and 2008, who had served as leaders of the Migrants Trade Union, a union founded for and by migrants.

Minu, who is engaged in human rights activism, became a target after a recent election of documented migrant workers to positions of leadership.

Target crackdowns are the consequence of President Lee Myung-bak’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy.

Last March he said, “illegal residents should not be allowed to just strut around”, a view widely condemned by human rights and labour organisations around the world.

Critics also note that the situation of migrant workers in South Korea has induced the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders to speak out on the issue.

The number of migrant workers deported has gone from around 20,000 a year during the Roh Moo-hyun administration to 32,000 last year under the Lee administration.

As of late July 2009, some 17,000 have lost their jobs and have been deported.

In addition, reports of serious human rights violations during the Justice Ministry’s crackdowns are surfacing; they include a steady number of cases of undocumented migrant workers suffering from injuries, dying, and committing suicide whilst in custody.

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