NOTE to INTERNATIONAL LABOR, MIGRANT and HUMAN RIGHTS GROUPS
Greetings from the Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon Migrants Trade Union!
We are a union formed by and for migrant workers in South Korea. Our
members come from many countries including Bangladesh, Nepal, the
Philippines, the U.S., Indonesia and Sri Lanka. We are contacting you to ask for
your solidarity in our struggle to improve the situation of migrant workers in
In the interest of building the global struggles for workers and migrants rights
we would also like to learn about similar organizations and unions around the
world. We believe this is the first step to establishing solidarity between us.
Please take a moment to send us information about your work.
Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon Migrants Trade Union
Summary of the Incident
At 4:00 am on February 11 a fire swept through the locked cells of the
detention center at the Yeosu Immigration Controls Office, killing 9 detainees
and wounding 18 others. Neither the alarm system nor the sprinklers operated
when the fire broke out. The detention center staff tried but failed to put out
the flames using portable fire extinguishers. Even so, they did not unlock cells
to free the detainees. The detainees were forced to breathe in toxic fumes
emitted from burning mattresses. These fumes were the cause of most of the
deaths and injuries.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation. The South Korean government
says it suspects arson by one detainee, but has not produced any evidence.
Despite this alibi it is not hard to see that the real roots of the tragedy lie
elsewhere- in the government’s inhumane policy towards migrant workers.
Background on Migrant Workers in Korea
There are currently roughly 400 thousand migrant workers in South Korea, of
whom about 189,000 are undocumented. Migrants in Korea have come under
either the “Industrial Trainee System” or the “Employment Permit System,”
which place them at specific factories and prohibit them from freely moving to
other jobs. Most migrant workers experience inhumane treatment, unsafe
working environments and low and unpaid wages. Therefore, many must leave
their assigned jobs in search of better conditions, thus becoming
The government has responded to this situation with a brutal crackdown.
Migrant workers are frequently injured and killed in surprise immigration raids.
What is more, they face inhumane conditions and human rights abuses in
detention centers like the one in Yeosu, which are worse than prisons. Migrants’
organizations and their supporters believe that the only true way to solve the
issue is to stop the crackdown, improve the migrant workers system and
legalize all undocumented migrants.
Human Rights Abuses in the Aftermath of the Fire
Injured migrants have been forced to receive treatment while handcuffed to
their hospital beds. 28 migrants who were deemed to need no treatment were
transferred to Cheong-ju Detention Center. Of these, 17 were forcibly deported
without begin given any compensation. The government is also refusing to
reveal information about the case to bereaved families and civil society
In response, MTU has come together with migrant and civil society
organizations to form the ‘Joint Committee for Counter Measures to the Tragic
Fire at Yeosu Foreigners Detention Center.’ We are working to raise awareness
about the incident and its roots and investigating the actual conditions in
detention centers around the country. We held a memorial service and mass
rally on February 25, which was met by police violence.
Now more than ever, our struggle needs international support. The situation of
migrant workers in South Korea must be familiar to all those who come from
and/or work in immigrant working-class communities in throughout the world.
Please show your solidarity by signing this petition to the South Korean
We, the undersigned, believe that to truly resolve this issue and ensure that
such an incident does not happen in the future the South Korean government
must comply with the following demands:
1. Full disclosure of the real causes and facts of the tragedy, punishment of
those responsible, resignation of the Minister of Justice and compensation to the
2. Closure of all detention centers for their inhumane conditions and
implementation of steps to revise the system.
3. An end to the brutal crackdowns and legalization of all migrant workers.
4. Institution of a system for the payment of back-wages and protection of
migrant workers rights.
We want the South Korean government to know that this incident and the
situation of migrant workers in South Korea have come to the attention of
people around the world. The international community will not condone the
human rights violations perpetrated by the South Korean government against
people who work honestly and contribute to the Korean economy. Urgent action
** This petition was initiated by Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon Migrants Trade Union
and Nodutdol for Korean Community Development (Queens, NY)
The Justice for Yeosu Detention Center Fire Victims and All Migrant Workers petition to progressive organizations and people around the world was written by Yul-san Liem and is in the category Human Rights at GoPetition.