“This time the police were coordinating with the immigration thugs,” claimed an anonymous Equality Trade Union member after an attack on their peaceful protest in the Itaewon neighbourhood of Seoul, South Korea, yesterday. The Equality Trade Union â€“ Migrant’s Branch (ETU-MB) was protesting at the Bangladeshi Embassy Wednesday, following the deportation of two of their members, Khademul Islam Bidduth and Jamal Ali, who, upon arrival in Bangladesh, were charged for their trade union work under an obscure national security law.
Bangladesh relies on migrant worker remittances for the bulk of its foreign exchange, and seems quite happy to continue the persecution of ETU-MB members.
About 200 police officers penned the protestors in a small street after they left the Bangladesh Embassy, making a beeline for Kabir Uddin, a prominent organizer with the ETU-MB. “They were on all sides, grabbing his hair, his arms, his clothes, anything they could get their filthy hands on. They were also on the ground under the claustrophobic throng, pulling and smashing his legs. I was protecting him with my body, kicking from below and biting arms from above, and when one asshole smashed him on the head with a big stick, I totally lost it,” reported a participant at the front lines.
Kabir, beaten and bruised, was able to escape from the police, but two other ETU-MB members, one from Bangladesh and one from Nepal, were not so lucky. They were detained by the police and will be held with the 2,400 migrant workers now awaiting deportation.
The ETU-MB is the only trade union made by and for documented and undocumented migrant workers anywhere in the world.
Since the recent crackdown began on October 24, 2004, 30,000 workers have left the country, 900 have been deported, 2,400 are currently detained, 100,000 are still being hunted, seven have committed desperate suicides in order to evade capture and deportation, and two have died from heart attacks while hiding out from the immigration manhunt.
In the last three months, South Korea has overhauled its permit system for foreign workers, minimizing the use of the Industrial Trainee System in favor of a slightly less flawed Employee Permit System that has cynically excluded over 150,000 migrant workers who have resided in Korea for over three years. The Korean government has vowed to force these workers out by conducting manhunts ten days and ten days off for the past three months until they manage to force out the rest of the undocumented workers in Korea.
Wednesday’s protest marks a distinct elevation in violence against the efforts of the ETU-MB to advocate on behalf of migrant workers. The ETU-MB has been holding a highly visible sit-in in front of the Myong Dong Cathedral, a traditional refuge for political dissidents, in downtown Seoul for over sixty days now and plans to continue until their demands for a five-year work permit system that includes eligibility for migrant workers currently residing Korea are met. Migrant workers take out large loans to pay recruiters in order to come to Korea to work for the many small to mid sized heavy industries that are experiencing chronic labor shortage. The ETU-MB claims that at least five years are necessary for workers to pay back their loans and to send money back to their families back at home. A permit system that does not give them enough time to do so will only increase overstaying.
Whenever they leave the safety of the church compound ETU-MB members risk arrest and deportation. They are doing everything they can to keep their movement going, literally biting the arms of state henchmen who want to dispossess them of their agency. Wednesday was too close a call. The government has doubled, tripled its efforts to erase the ETU-MB in the last week. Each day is becoming more critical, as the ETU-MB vows to keep protesting, knowing that they may soon face a final assault from a cynical state that wants to make them disappear. Every form of solidarity is needed.
[You can write to the government’s webpages such the immigration authority (http://www.moj.go.kr/immi/index.php), Department of Justice (www.moj.go.kr), the president (www.president.go.kr) and Department of labor (www.molab.go.kr). Or you can send emails to these addresses, [email protected] (Minister of Justice) and [email protected] (Korean president). You can also write to or phone the media contacts of Korean Air (Penny Pfaelzer/Anne Johns: phone (602) 532-9733 e-mail: [email protected] or [email protected]) and ask them not to allow the Korean government to use their airplanes to deport ETU-MB organizers.
Information about ETU-MB is available in English at the following internet sites: http://migrant.nodong.net/ver2/index_e.html, www.base21.org, and www.labourstart.org.
If you plan a protest or write a letter please post this information as well as any other type of support to the free message board on http://migrant.nodong.net/ver2/index_e.html, the ETU-MB’s home site, or email [email protected].]
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