Migrant Workers in South Korea have just lost two competent, passionate advocates for Migrant Workers’ Rights; pretty soon they may lose many more, that is, if the government’s attacks on the Equality Trade Union – Migrants’ Branch â€“- the only nationwide union of undocumented migrant workers in existence anywhere -â€“ are successful.
In the last three months, South Korea has overhauled its permit system for foreign workers, replacing the instable Industrial Trainee System with a flawed Employee Permit System that has cynically excluded over 150, 000 migrant workers who have resided in Korea for over three years: workers who speak the language, have started families, and who feel a sense of belonging to their host society. Since the recent crackdown began on October 24, 2004, 27 000 workers have been deported or have left the country, 120 000 are still being hunted, and six have committed desperate suicides in order to evade capture and deportation.
Now the government is preparing for an assault on the only political organization that migrant workers have built for themselves: the Equality Trade Union – Migrants’ Branch (ETU-MB). The ETU-MB has put up a courageous fight against the government’s crackdown, in its short history it has mobilized migrant workers at a pace seen nowhere else; it has wrestled its organizers back from the claws of the state when they have been detained, and it was responsible for mobilizing the public outcry that caused the government to scrap the Trainee system. But now the government is striking back, Khademul Islam Bidduth and Jamal Ali, the first a prominent ETU-MB activist, the second a courageous teenager who tried to save his friend from the police, were both deported to Bangladesh on New Year’s Eve. Jamal and Bidduth were arrested in a police raid on a late October rally. Despite a 41 day sit-in by the ETU-MB, despite international protests, despite protests by Korea‘s own social movements and celebrities, these two organizers were deported, and since their arrival in Bangladesh they have been detained for having associated with trade unions and civil society groups while in Korea.
The actions of the Korean government violate the most basic dignity of migrant workers.
For the last two months the government has been launching bi-weekly crackdown manhunts for migrant workers in their neighborhoods, factories, and in downtown shopping districts, causing many migrant workers to be in constant fear. Many have left and others have taken to the hills, literally hiding out in the mountains until the crackdown ends. Employers have also been hit with exorbitant fines, forcing them to lay off their already meagerly paid foreign workers. The ETU-MB and its supporters have been physically attacked by riot police and immigration authorities during recent demonstrations; these attacks have been increasing in force and frequency in the last two weeks. Whenever they poked their heads out of the Myongdong Cathedral, the site of refuge where they held their sit-in, there were police ready to detain and deport their members. In response, Korean students and workers have protected ETU-MB leaders by putting their bodies between migrant workers and police at rallies and sit-ins, but how long can these tactics hold off the overwhelming force of state power? A state that has already made it clear that it intends to break the ETU-MB and deport its leaders, especially Kabir Uddin, one of the ETU-MB’s most talented and vocal members. It is impossible to expect the ETU-MB to be able to advocate for undocumented workers if they under constant intimidation and assault, as they are now.
The ETU-MB is making a desperate call out for help from anyone who can offer it. Protests in front of Korean embassies and consulates or major economic interests (Samsung, Hyundai, Korean Air) in different countries are recommended, as well as petitions to local NGOs and Civil Society groups such as Amnesty International to take up the cause of the individual members of the ETU-MB that have been detained in Bangladesh and Korea.
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).
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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