SOUTH KOREA: Arrest of migrant union leaders due to their activities; waiting for forcible deportation


Urgent Appeal Case: UA-337-2007
ISSUES: Human rights defenders, Migrant workers, Refugees, IDPs & Asylum seekers,

Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information that three leaders of the Migrants’ Trade Union (MTU) were arrested and detained on 27 November 2007, by immigration officials outside their homes and workplace in South Korea. Although they have been arrested on the basis of their undocumented status, it is alleged that the arrests were made in order to curb their activities. The members of MTU, including three leaders, have organised to continue protesting against a crackdown in front of the Immigration Office. They continue to do so, despite being at risk of being arrested as part of the Ministry of Justice arrests of undocumented migrant workers in August 2007.


Mr. Kajiman Khapung (42), Nepali, President of the MTU was leaving his home in Sindang with a friend at 9:30am on 27 November 2007. More than 10 immigration officers appeared around the corner. Despite trying to avoid them, Khapung was arrested. One officer showed his identification card marked as a Ministry of Justice (MoJ) while another presented documents with Khapung’s personal information on it. Another officer recorded the arrest with a video camera. Khapung tried to make phone calls, however his cell phone was confiscated. Khapung was taken by car to the Seoul Immigration office and then to the Cheongju Foreigner’s Protection Center, which has in practice been used as detention center for all foreigners arrested, and it is where he has since been incarcerated.

On the same day, Mr. Raj Kumar Gurung, (38), Nepali, Vice-President of the MTU, was at his workplace in Sindang when four Immigration officers arrived at 9:15am. They demanded Gurung show them his identification card after which they identified themselves and tried to handcuff him. Mr. Gurung resisted these attempts to arrest him but was eventually arrested. When he tried to inform his friends of his arrest using his cell phone, his phone was also confiscated. He was taken to the Seoul immigration office and then to Cheongju Foreigner’s Protection Center.

Mr. Abdul Basher M Moniruzzaman, (41), Bangladeshi, General-Secretary of the MTU was outside his home in Unhyeon when ten Immigration officers approached him from behind. Suddenly, a total of fifteen officers surrounded him. One recorded his arrest, another showed him his identification card marked as a MoJ officer and another presented files which contained his information. He later informed them that one of the officers had been watching his house the night before. When he was about to be arrested, he tried to inform others using his cell phone however, his phone was also confiscated. When he was taken to the Seoul Immigration Office, he asked to have his phone returned but was denied. Then, he was taken to the Cheongju Foreigner’s Protection Center.

On the day of their arrest, some organisations lodged a complaint to the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK). On the following day, November 28, investigating officers from NHRCK visited the Cheongju Foreigner’s Protection Center and interviewed them. On the condition that the Immigration office had already issued orders for their protection (effectively an ‘order for detention’ and forcible deportation) legal counsel for the arrestees submitted an application for appeal against their protection and deportation to the MoJ.

Now all arrestees [picture 1] are currently detained in the Cheongju Foreigner’s Protection Center and may be deported soon if the court dismisses the application for appeal.


The MTU is an organization that advocates the rights of South Korea’s migrant workers irrespective of their status. When the MTU tried to register, in order to form a Trade Union with the Seoul District Labour Office, its application was denied on the bases that the members of MTU were undocumented. The MTU filed a case in 2006 and the Seoul High Court made its decision to permit the MTU to form on 1 February 2007 (Case No. Seoul High Court decision 2006 NU 6774). The appeal case is currently pending at the Supreme Court.

The AHRC has earlier issued an urgent appeal about the arrest and possible of deportation of the former president of MTU. (See further: UA-086-2005)


In South Korea, the number of migrant workers is estimated to be over 420,000. It is estimated that some 224,000 out of the total migrant work force are undocumented workers. The MoJ publicised a policy that the Immigration office, which is under the MoJ, started arresting undocumented migrant workers and detaining them in a Protection Center before forcible deportation. It started its operation in August 2007. Several cases of human rights violation by immigration officials have been reported during its operation.

On August 20, immigration officers questioned 5 foreigners near Seong-su subway station. They did not show their identification when asked. Even though the five arrestees showed their document indicating legal status, the officers forcibly arrested them. During this process, the arrestees were assaulted. Bystanders called the police and all were brought to near the Seong-su police station. A lawyer went to the police station and asked to meet them but was denied access. Later, one of arrestees was charged with obstructing official duties.

Mr. Ayhya, an Indonesian migrant worker, went to Gyeongin Office of Ministry of Labour to report that the owner of his company did not pay his retirement allowance upon his leaving the company on August 20. He came to South Korea as an industrial trainee in 2000 and worked with the company for 7 years. However he was arrested for overstaying and detained. Likewise, migrant workers facing delays in payment or health problems in the workplace have, in practice, nowhere to report their existing problem.

Mr. Waleed, a Pakistan migrant worker, was working at a company in South Korea. Some immigration officers came into the company without a warrant on August 23 and Waleed was brought to their car. They forced him to sign a letter without informing him as to the contents of the letter. Waleed asked them to bring him to a hospital due to the pain in his ankle. However, they allegedly assaulted him and only later that evening took him to a hospital. The doctor examining his left ankle found it was broken and asked to admit him to surgery. However the police refused to admit him to hospital and took him to Mokdong Immigration office and later released him.

On August 28, Ms. Lee, a Chinese national, was arrested in a restaurant on the charge of an undocumented stay by the police from Seongnam Sujeong police station. She and her seven-month-old daughter were taken into custody and put in a so-called ‘protection room’ in Seoul immigration. She asked to go to a hospital because her daughter had a high fever due to enteritis but immigration officers refused and she was denied any medical treatment unless she could first pay a deposit for ten million Korean won (USD 10,780). As this case was well known and a protest was held, Seoul immigration firstly denied that they were detaining the mother and daughter but later her family verified the fact. Then Seoul immigration received three million Korean won (USD 3,230) from her husband as a deposit and they released the mother and daughter.

As these have been reported, members of the MTU including the arrestees have started holding protests against the immigration officials’ abuses in front of the Seoul Immigration Office every Tuesday for the last three months.

At the same time, the MoJ made an advance notice of legislation to revise Immigration Act on 8 November 2007. Some of the major controversial articles of the revised act are reported below:

According to the article 46-2 of the revised act, immigration officials may enter an office, business premises, workplace or similar places if they have substantial reason to believe a foreigner violating under article 46-1 of the same act is on the premises. They can investigate foreigners, employers or relevant persons, and have the right access to necessary materials such as documents for employment or ask for their submission. This article empowers the immigration officials to enter any premises without a court warrant which is contrary to the stipulation in article 12 and 16 of the Constitution of the Republic of Korea.

In addition, according to article 63, the head of an office, branch office or that of foreigners’ protection center may “protect” a foreigner who has received an order of forcible deportation in a foreigners’ protection facility, center or a place where the Minister of Justice designates until they are able to deport them if they are unable to immediately deport them, for instance in cases where persons do not have a passport or a guaranteed means of transportation. The protection facilities are allowed to hold foreigners for up to 6 months and they must apply to the Minister of Justice to have this period extended before the 6 months expires. The Minister of Justice can allow for the extension of their term for another 6 months. This renewal process is in theory inexhaustible and foreigners can be held for an unlimited period of time as long as the Minister of Justice renews the order for their “protection”. In practice this can lead to gross violations of the right to liberty and freedom from arbitrary detention.

The arrestees with other members from MTU had been holding several protests and candle light vigils against the operation by immigration officials and the MoJ’s bill to revise the immigration act which may worsen the situation for workers and especially migrant workers.

It is reported that their arrests are directly linked to their activities in the MTU campaigning for the protection and promotion for human rights of migrant workers.

The AHRC is of the view that the government of the Republic of Korea is obliged to make sure that “All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. In this respect, the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status” which is article 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which the government is a state party. 

Please write to the authorities below requesting for the release of Mr. Moniruzzaman, Mr.Gurung and Mr. Khapung until they have been able to petition and appeal against orders for their deportation.

Please also send your appeal letter to Ms. Wol-san Liem, international solidarity coordinator of MTU by both and for their follow-up actions.

The AHRC is writing separate letter to UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants and Special Representative on human rights defenders calling for their intervention in this case.

To support this case, please click here: SEND APPEAL LETTER


Dear __________,

SOUTH KOREA: Arrest of migrant union leaders due to their activities; waiting for forcible deportation

Details of victims:
1. Mr. Kajiman Khapung (42), single, President of the Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon Migrants’ Trade Union (MTU), arrested at his house in Sindang, Seoul
2. Mr. Raj Kumar Gurung, (38), single, Vice-president of the MTU, arrested in his workplace in Sindang, Seoul
3. Mr. Abdul Basher Moniruzzam, (41), single, General-Secretary of the MTU, arrested at his house in Unhyeon, Seoul 
Date of arrest: 27 November 2007
Currently detained at: Cheongju Foreigner’s Protection (Detention) Center

I am writing to voice my deep concern regarding the arrest of the leaders of the MTU. According to the information I have received on 27 November 2007 Mr. Khapung, Mr. Gurung and Mr. Moniruzzam were arrested by groups of immigration officers.

I have been informed that they and their organisation have played a prominent role as activists for the rights of migrant workers and have been openly critical of the government’s policy towards undocumented workers. I express my concern over the belief that their arrests were directly linked to their struggle to improve the conditions of migrant workers in South Korea. I also ask you to take steps to stop the crackdown against migrant workers.

South Korean labour rights should be made in accordance with international standards and that the proposed immigration bill would take labour laws further away from these standards. I take this opportunity to draw your attention to the article 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which the Republic of Korea is a state party.

It clearly stipulates that “All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. In this respect, the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status”. Especially I would like to draw your special attention to those phrases that have been highlighted.

I have also been informed that their arrests were directly linked to their prior activities helping migrant’s workers and holding protests against the government’ policy of arresting undocumented migrant workers and the bill to revise the Immigration act and that some of articles in it are controversial as they are contrary to the Constitution of Republic of Korea and International human rights instruments.

Therefore, I urge you to immediately release them in order to make sure that all persons are entitled to redress under the law without any discrimination and without reference to their migration status. I also urge you to reconsider their deportation due to their prior activities against the government policy and show genuine efforts to negotiate a general consensus. I further urge you to study every case where there has been a human rights violation against the rights of migrant workers especially those who are undocumented and find a way to deal with them rather than using force which has facilitated these serious human rights violations occurring.

I trust that you will take immediate action into this matter.

Yours sincerely,



1. Mr. Roh Moo-Hyun 
President of the Republic 
1 Sejong-no, Jongno-gu
Seoul 110-820
Tel: +82 2 770 0018
Fax: +82 2 770 0347 / 770 0001 / 770 2579
E-mail: or

2. Mr. Chung, Soung-Jin
Minister of Justice
88 Gwanmon-ro, Gwachon-si
Gyonggi Province 427-760
Fax: +82 2 2110 3079 / 503 7046

3. Mr. Ahn Kyong-Whan
National Human Rights Commission of Korea
16 Euljiro 1-ga
Seoul 100-842
Tel: +82 2 2125 9700 
Fax: +82 2 2125 9812 / 2125 9666

4. Ms. Sachiko Yamamoto
Regional Director
United Nations Building, 11th Floor
Rajdamnern Nok Avenue
P.O. Box 2-349
Bangkok 10200, Thailand
Tel: +66 2288 2295 or 2288 1234 
Fax: +66 2288 3056 (direct) or 2288 3062

Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme 
Asian Human Rights Commission ( 

Document Type : Urgent Appeal Case
Document ID : UA-337-2007
Countries : South Korea,
Issues : Human rights defenders, Migrant workers, Refugees, IDPs & Asylum seekers,