MTU released today following statement:
S.Korean Government's Repression against Migrant Workers Grows Stronger Everyday
-Stop the crackdown against undocumented migrant workers!
Other critics say it would cause environmental and ecological disasters.
The South Korean government has declared a concentrated crackdown on undocumented migrant workers to do from, October to December 2009. During this time, the government will raid throughout the country, arresting and deport as many undocumented migrants as possible, using every sort of illegal measure imaginable and leading to countless human rights violations, injuries and deaths. We have already witnessed the terrible results of the crackdown many times in the past. The worse case was a deadly fire that broke out at the Yeosu Foreigners Detention Center in 2007. The guards refused to open cell doors resulting in the deaths of 10 people. Since the government began its massive crackdown on undocumented migrants in November 2003, a total of 27 people have died result of these immigration procedures.
Despite heavy criticism of the crackdown, the current President, Lee Myeong-bak, who came to power in the beginning of 2008, has only strengthened the drive towards detention and deportation. In 2008 alone 30,576 people were deported—65% more than in 2007. In 2009 it appears the figure will be even higher. Immigration officers make surprise raids on factories, dormitories and houses without warrants; the stop people on the street, at bus stops and in marketplaces and arrest those who cannot produce documents. Even documented migrants who have not brought their identification cards are arrested. Due to this crackdown, the roughly 20,000 undocumented migrants now in South Korea live in a constant state of terrible fear.
"Eradicating Crimes by Foreigners"—An Excuse to Attack Migrants
The number of foreigners living in South Korea has now past 1 million, with foreign residents making up roughly 2% of the population. As their numbers have grown, it is only natural that the number of crimes committed by foreign residents has also gone up. The government is blowing this fact out of proportion so as to instigate Koreans’ fears of people from other countries.
National Assembly members from the ultraconservative Grand National Party have matched their tone with that of the conservative media to stir up hysteria about ‘foreigner crimes’, while the Lee Myeong-bak administration has put together a special ‘Anti-Foreign Crimes Unit’ composed of some 6 or 8 government agencies including the Prosecutors office, the police and the Ministry of Justice.
Statistics show, however, that all of this hype is completely divorced from reality.
According to a 2009 police whitepaper, the crime rate for foreign residents, 3.9 for every 100 persons, is actually lower than the rate for native Koreans—4.1 for every 100 persons. In addition, the percent of total crimes committed by foreigners in 2008 was only 1.65%. This is less than the percent of the population foreign residents represent (roughly 2%). The increase in the number of crimes committed by foreign residents has to be view in relation to the overall increase in crimes in Korean society. Last year the total number of crimes increased by 12.4%. Throwing out claims about crimes by foreigners without making reference to this fact is clearly an intentional distortion.
Stimulating fears about ‘foreigner crimes’ at the same time as the intensive crackdown on undocumented migrants is going on creates a climate in which the mere fact of undocumented residence is seen as a crime. It also likely that the government will highlight the few crimes in which undocumented migrants are involved so as to encourage people to see all undocumented migrants as criminals and thus justify strengthening its repression against them.
Growing Repression against ALL Migrants
This is not only an attack on undocumented migrants and the few foreigners who are involved in crimes, but on all migrants in South Korea. Among documented migrant workers there is no one without a friend or relative who is undocumented. The governments’ measures provide an excuse to the police to increase surveillance, investigation and attacks on these and other migrants, irrespective of their status.
This can also be seen in the dramatic increase in rejections of citizenship applications: the number of rejections has increased 6 times in the last two years. This is because people who have committed minor misdemeanors, such as traffic violations, are being rejected for having ‘criminal records’. Claiming to carry out a crackdown on fake marriages, the Ministry has also strengthened its investigation of foreigners who marry Korean nationals, creating severe hardships for would-be marriage migrants.
Discriminatory Immigration Policy
On the other hand, it has become much easier for a small group of people to enter and live in South Korea. The government has greatly loosened the requirements for permanent residency so that people who invest $500,000 and employ 5 or more native workers may reside in Korea without time restriction. But, for migrant workers it is almost impossible under the current system to gain even the right to apply for permanent residency. In addition, undocumented migrant workers who left the country are barred from returning for 5 years. Documented migrant workers face severe discrimination resulting from restrictions on their right to change workplaces and the authority granted to their employers to fire them at will. We are not only outraged by this discriminatory treatment, but also gravely concerned that the governments’ policies will increase racist thinking in Korean society.
- Migrants are not criminals!
- Stop the crackdown!
- Stop the repression of migrant activists!
- Legalize all migrant workers!
- Recognize the Migrants Trade Union!
Stop the Targeted Arrest of Migrant Activists
On October 8 the South Korean government ambushed and arrested Minod Moktan (38, Nepal), a long-time migrants rights activist. This case follows the pattern of targeted crackdown against migrant activists that has gone on since 2002, with immigration officers waiting in hiding near Minod’s workplace and confronting him on his way to work. Minod had been a migrant worker and was also one of the founders of the "Stop Crackdown!" band. He also helped to found a migrant workers television station, and was a well-respected teacher of multiculturalism. Minod had lived in South Korea in an undocumented status for 18 years, during which time he contributed a great deal as a cultural activist. Despite a growing struggle for his release, the government deported him on October 23. This attack against him signals the even greater repression against migrant workers and the migrant workers movement that is to come.
The Migrants Trade Union (MTU)
The Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon Migrants Trade Union (MTU) is a union founded for and by migrant workers in April 2005.
MTU was formed in the wake of a 381-day-long sit-in protest against the government’s crackdown on undocumented migrant workers and the enforcement of a new system for regulating migrant labor (the Employment Permit System), which went on from November 2003 to December 2004. The migrant workers who formed the heart of this struggle went on to found MTU in order to fight for equal labor rights, an end to the crackdown and legalization of all undocumented migrant workers.
The South Korean government has refused to recognize MTU as a legal union. Its main argument is the MTU’s membership is made up of undocumented migrant workers, who it says do not have the right to form or participate in unions. By MTU’s constitution say that all migrant workers, regardless of status, may become members and run for election as union officers. In fact, our membership includes documented and undocumented migrant workers, who are all struggling for our rights together. Moreover, we know that in both Korean and international law, all workers are entitled to the right to freedom of association, regardless of their social status.
Therefore, we began a lawsuit to challenge the government’s decision, and in 2007 the Seoul High Court found in our favor. The government, however, has appealed this decision to the Supreme Court and has shamelessly targeted our leaders for arrest and deportation in an attempt to smother our union. MTU’s leadership has been arrested 3 times in April 2005, November 2007 and May 2005. This pattern caused the ILO Committee of Freedom of Association to recommend to the South Korean Government to stop its targeting of MTU officers. We have not backed down in the face of government repression and continue to fight for the rights we justly deserve. We are currently waiting for a decision on our case for union registration from the Supreme Court.
The Employment Permit System (EPS): The government boasts that it is a successful system, but we know it is no more than modern-day slavery.
In its October 2009 report, Amnesty International makes the following critique of the Employment Permit System: "Now 5 years into the EPS work scheme, migrant workers in South Korea continue to be at risk of human rights abuses and many of the exploitative practices that existed under the Industrial Trainee System (ITS) still persist under the EPS.
One of the central problems of the EPS is that it places migrant workers in an extremely vulnerable position by tying their right to residence to their employment status and thus making them highly subordinate to their employers. The EPS severely restricts workers’ right to change workplaces and makes doing so possible only with the permission of the employer. It also gives employers the unilateral authority to terminate work contracts. By doing so, it invites exploitation and abuse: migrant workers routinely face verbal and physical abuse, do not receive allowances for overtime and nighttime work, and endure unpaid wages. Women migrant workers frequently experience sexual harassment and assault. The problem of industrial accidents is also very severe. For 2008 the rate of industrial accident for migrant workers was nearly 6 times that of native Korean workers.
While placing migrant workers in this situation of high-level exploitation, the South Korean government limits their period of residence to 3 years—with the possibility of a 2 year extension only in the case an employer wants it. This is a much shorter residency period than migrants need to pay off debts and support families, thus inducing them to overstay their visas. The government hopes to use its brutal immigration crackdown to stop documented migrants from even thinking about becoming undocumented.
The government claims that these restrictions on migrant workers are necessary to protect the jobs of native workers. In fact, however, giving equal rights to migrant workers will help raise the work conditions for native workers. As an alternative we are demanding a Work Permit System, under which migrant workers would have the same rights as native workers, be able to bring their families with them, be allowed to stay in South Korea for the length of time that they wished.
The Brutal Face of the Immigration Crackdown
The brutal nature of the government’s crackdown on undocumented migrant workers can be seen clearly in the following case.
On November 12, 2008, one of the largest raids on irregular migrant workers took place in Maseok, Gyeonggi province. Roughly 280 immigration officials and police officers ransacked factories and dormitories inside an industrial complex, arresting at least 110 regular and irregular migrant workers in less than an hour. Officials indiscriminately rounded up all non-South Korean workers without first making an attempt to verify their immigration status. It was only after those arrested were taking to immigration vans that attempt was made to separate those who were regular from those who were not.
Immigration and police officers entered buildings in the complex without first presenting a warrant or asking permission to enter the premises. In one instance, 10 immigration officers climbed over a dormitory wall and kicked in the door of a room where seven Filipino female migrant workers were sleeping. Officers grab the hair of two women who were still in their underclothes, and drag them to the awaiting van. Another woman who had been arrested was forced by immigration offers to urinate on the street in view of others. 10 people were injured while fleeing and had to be hospitalized. These and many other human rights abuses took place in the course of the raid.