UPDATE (South Korea): The Korean Government must immediately stop the massive arrest and deportation of undocumented migrant workers


Urgent Appeal Case: UP-15-2004
ISSUES: Migrant workers,

Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) calls for your urgent support for these undocumented workers in South Korea. 

Since the South Korean Government began cracking down on undocumented workers in November 2003, many cases of harassment and arbitrary arrest of migrants have been reported. It is also reported that the detention center authorities did not provide appropriate medical treatment to the migrant workers, who were on hunger strike in Detention Centers in Hwasong and Yeosu. Instead, the officials punished them by putting them in the segregation cell and forcibly deporting them to their countries. Several hunger strike participants are in critical condition now. 

Please send a letter to the President and Minister of Justice of South Korean Government and request them to stop the ongoing crackdown on and deportation of migrant workers. AHRC also suggests that you send a letter or call the detention centers and ask them to provide appropriate medical treatment to the hunger strike participants. 

You can also follow up with this matter through the website of the Equality Trade Union – Migrants’ Branch (ETU- MB): http://migrant.nodong.net/ver2/index_e.html Also, you can join their campaign and send an instant online protest letter to the Korean government letter via www.labourstart.org. 

To see our previous urgent appeals regarding this matter, please visit:
[UA-73-2003-South Korea: http://www.ahrchk.net/ua/mainfile.php/2003/621/
UP-01-2004-South Korea: http://www.ahrchk.net/ua/mainfile.php/2004/527/]

Urgent Appeals Desk
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)


Migrant workers’ hunger strike

On 17 February 2004, nine migrant workers stated a hunger strike calling for the immediate stop of the Korean government’s crackdown on undocumented migrant workers. More and more migrant workers in detention centers as well as outside are joining the hunger strike. However, the detention center authorities put two Russian and 5 Kazakh hunger striking migrants into a dark, unlit segregation cell that is meant for one person, and denied the effective medical attention.

Currently, Kul Bahadur Yakha and Enamul Haq and someone known as “Gupta” are being held at Hwasong Detention Center. Kul Bahadur, now only weights 36 kg and Gupta’s weight is now 59 kg (before 73 kg). Both of them are very weak. Further, Byambajav Baraash, a migrant worker from Mongolia, is in very critical condition and needs urgent medical treatment in a hospital. He is also at Hwasong Detention Center. The Center number is +82 31 355 2011 or 355 6068. 

Samar Thapa, a prominent ETU-MB organizer, is being kept in Yeosu Detention Center. 
He is separated from the bulk of the migrant population. It is reported that his condition is also bad. The Center number is +82 61 665 2441. 

Chronology of the Sit-in Struggle at Myeongdong Cathedral:

November 15, 2003
100 migrant workers, along with the Korean Confederation Trade Unions (KCTU), began an indefinite sit-in struggle at Myeongong Cathedral, demanding the Korean government stop the forced deportation of migrant workers and legalize all unregistered migrant workers.

November 2003 to January 2004
The Korean government deported 3,000 migrant workers and 10,000 migrant workers voluntarily left South Korea. The Korean Government’s repression begins against the Myeongdong Sit-in Struggle Collective (MSCC). 

January 17, 2004
The Korean Government announced that if the workers voluntarily leave Korea, they can return to Korea under the new EPS. But the government officials fail to provide any official documents of this promise to the workers. 

February 15, 2004
One of the key leaders of the MSCC, Samar Thapa from Nepal, was arrested by immigration officials. He is currently imprisoned at the Yeosu Deportation Center.

February 17, 2004
Workers demonstrated against the arrest of Thapa. Gupta from Nepal was arrested by immigration officials. Nine workers (one at the Yeosu Deportation Center, four at the Hwasung Deportation Center, and four at the Myeongdong Cathedral) started an indefinite hunger strike in protest of the forced deportation of migrant workers. 

February 20, 2004
The Ministry of Justice announced they will renew the crackdown and forced deportation of migrant workers on 1 March 2004.

February 23, 2004
The hunger strike inside the Hwasung Deportation Center spread and 17 migrant workers participated in the hunger strike. Human rights abuse against hunger strike participants increased. Six of the hunger strikers were put in solitary confinement. In addition, the center officials refuse to disperse much-needed medicine to the participants. As a result, several participants are in critical condition. Some are vomiting and are discharging blood, while others are suffering from body spasm and intense headaches. However, deportation center officials refused to provide medical treatment, aside from dispensing cough medicine. 

March 8, 2004
21 days into the hunger strike, the detain centers provided medical treatment to the hunger strike participants. Meantime, the Korean Government forcefully deported 11 migrant workers participating in the hunger strike even though some of them were in poor health. 


On 31 July 2003, the South Korean government passed a new migrant worker management system, entitled the Employment Permit System (EPS) which is to take into effect on August 2004. This new law, along with the Industrial Trainee System, is basically South Korean’s version of a slave system. According to the new law, migrant workers can work in South Korea for only three years and no right to move their work place. Since migrant workers cannot change their work place, the employer basically has complete control over the wages and working conditions of migrant workers; thus these workers are bound to the employer like slaves. 

In preparation for the implementation of the EPS, since November 16, 2003, the South Korean government has been consistent in their policy of seeking out and deporting migrant workers who have been in South Korea for more than four years. This policy has resulted in the tragic deaths of nine migrant workers who chose death instead of returning to their home countries. 

Until now, 7 have committed suicide, and many other migrants have fled their jobs and homes in fear of the immigration police; some have taken to hiding out in the mountains during intense crackdown periods. Still, more than 110,000 migrants remain as undocumented workers.

Please send a letter, fax or email to the President of South Korea and express your concern of this matter. 

Send a letter: 

Mr. Roh Moo-hyun
1 Sejong-no, Jongno-gu 
Seoul 110-820, 
Tel: +822 770-0018
Fax: +822 770-0202 or 770-0347 / +822 770-2579 (for appeal)
E-mail: president@cwd.go.kr or president@president.go.kr 

Send a copy to: 

Ms. Kang Kum-sil
Minister of Justice 
1 Jungang-ro, Gwachon-si, 
Gyonggi Province, 427-760
Fax: +822 503 3532, or 822 26506295/ +822 503 7046 (HR Department)
E-mail: m_moj@moj.go.krimmi_moj@moj.go.kr or kskang7@moj.go.kr 

Chang-kook Kim
President of the 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
E-mail: nhrc@humanrights.go.kr

Mr Y. Nodera
Regional Director
ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific 
United Nations Building, 11th Floor 
Rajdamnern Nok Avenue, P.O. Box 2-349 
Bangkok 10200, Thailand 
Tel: 66 2 288 1710, 288 1755 
Fax: 66 2 288 3056 (direct), 288 3062 
E-mail: bangkok@ilobkk.or.th 

Ms. Gabriela Rodriguez Pizarro
Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants
OHCHR-UNOG, 8-14 Avenue de la Paix 
1211 Geneva 10, 
Tel: +41 22 917 9000 
Fax: + 41 22 917 9011

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


The Korean Government must immediately stop the massive arrest and deportation of undocumented migrant workers

Dear President Roh Moo-hyun,

I am writing to bring to your attention the ongoing arrests, detention and deportation of undocumented migrants in South Korea. 

Seven undocumented workers have already committed suicide, and many human rights abuses by immigration officials have been reported since the crackdown on migrant workers began last November. Moreover, I was shocked to learn that the detention center authorities have denied providing appropriate medical treatment to the hunger strike participants, who are in critical condition. 

Also, I would like to appeal to the Korean Government’s repression against the Equality Trade Union – Migrants’ Branch (ETU-MB), which is actively supporting the campaign for undocumented migrants in South Korea. The right to protest is a basic human right that is guaranteed by Article 22(3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which is Korean Government is a state party. 

I strongly urge the Korean government to immediately stop the ruthless crackdown and deportation of ‘undocumented’ migrant workers. The Korean Government must stop repress the ETU-MB activists, in accordance with Article 22(3) of the ICCPR. I also call for the South Korean government to abolish the Industrial Trainee System, revoke the Employment Permit System and install proper legal protection for migrant workers in full accordance with international standards and laws. I further urge the South Korean government to legalize all undocumented migrant workers, release all detained migrant workers, and fully ensure their labour rights by law. 

Yours truly,


Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme 
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)

Document Type : Urgent Appeal Update
Document ID : UP-15-2004
Countries : South Korea,
Issues : Migrant workers,