REPUBLIC OF KOREA: Two migrant workers facing upcoming deportation committed suicide 


Urgent Appeal Case: UA-73-2003
ISSUES: Migrant workers,

Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information that two migrant workers who were facing forced deportation by the Korean government have committed suicide. It is estimated that 120,000 illegal migrant workers who have been in Korea for more than four years are facing forced deportation by the South Korean government beginning on 16 November 2003. Your urgent action is required to correct this matter immediately.

Urgent Appeals Desk
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)


On the night of 11 November 2003, a 32-year-old migrant worker, Mr. Tharaka from Sri Lanka, who was facing deportation, committed suicide by jumping in front of a subway train in Seongnam south of Seoul. After he came to Korea in 1996, he had been working at a tent-making factory in Gwangju, Gyeonggi Province, for the past four years. The owner of the tent-making company, Mr. Kim, said that Tharaka was apprehensive about returning to Sri Lanka because he had run away from serving in the Sri Lankan armed forces and would have faced prosecution. He had agonized over the forced deportation of illegal workers. The South Korean government is scheduled to begin forcibly deporting illegal migrant workers who have stayed in Korea for more than four years on 16 November 2003.

At about 5:30 a.m. on 12 November 2003, another migrant workers named Mr. Bikgu committed suicide by hanging himself in his factory. He came to Korea as an industrial trainee in November 1996, but he has worked in Korea illegally since the trainee period expired. The factory owner Mr. Kang said, “A few days ago I paid him his last salary and told him I can’t work with him anymore. Then he only cried in front of me.”

The South Korean government said that illegal migrant workers who refuse to leave will face punishment and deportation, the government said. Company owners who employ illegal workers who have stayed for more than the legal term will face up to three years in prison and fines of 20 million won (about US$17,000). Labor Minister Kwon Ki-hong said, “As soon as the legal procedures are processed, we plan to carry out an intensive search for illegal workers and employers.”

The number of foreign workers in South Korea is estimated to be 360,000; but according to current law, 290,000 are classified as illegal residents. The government has set a date for deportation to begin on 16 November for the estimated 120,000 illegal migrant workers who have been in Korea for more than four years.

However, human rights organizations have expressed their concern that the rights of migrant workers will be seriously abused by the police during the search and deportation. They added that the many workers from Burma, Pakistan, Syria and Iran will face arrest or a political crackdown by the government.

Send a letter, fax or e-mail to the South Korean government and express your concern for this serious case.

1. Mr. Roh Moo-hyun
President, Republic of Korea
1 Sejong-no, Jongno-gu
Seoul 110-820,
Tel: +822 770-0018
Fax: +822 770-0347 or 770-0001 / +822 770-2579 (for appeal)

2. Kwon Ki Hong
Minister of Labor
Jungang-ro 1, Gwacheon-si, Gyonggi province
Republic of Korea
Tel: +82 2 2110 2114
Fax: +82 2 6494 6494

3. Chang-kook Kim
National Human Rights Commission of Korea
16 Euljiro 1-ga, Jung-gu
Seoul 100 842
Tel: +82 2 2125 9700
Fax: +82 2 2125 9811 / 9666

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Re: Forced Deportation and Suicides of Migrant Workers

I am saddened to learn about the recent suicides of migrant workers in South Korea who are facing deportation beginning on 16 November 2003. The first suicide involves Mr. Tharaka from Sri Lanka on 11 November 2003 and the second of Mr. Bikgu on 12 November 2003. I am afraid that even more migrant workers will commit suicide in the next few days as they face deportation.

I urge the South Korean government to reconsider its decision to deport approximately 120,000 migrant workers who have lived and worked in South Korea for more than four years. I am concerned that the human rights of the migrant workers will be violated during their forced deportation and that many migrant workers being sent back to countries with poor human rights records, such as Burma, Pakistan, Syria and Iran, will be persecuted when they return. I thus ask you to end this human suffering before it begins.

Thank you for your response to this important issue.



Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme 
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)
Document Type : Urgent Appeal Case
Document ID : UA-73-2003
Countries : South Korea,
Issues : Migrant workers,