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Nov. 15  2018
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Christian's Photo Column 

Letter to My Friend, Hankukyi

By Choi Hyun-mo Director of Policy Making, Korea Migrant Workers Human Rights Centre

Source  :  Asian Workers News No. 136

Rain has come and gone all day long, and now it is pouring. It wasn't as heavy before, but now that its this heavy, it makes me worry. You have been here, so you know how it is; we have difficulty when the weather is bad, especially during sit-in strikes outside.

How are things where you are? I was busy today. I was invited to a meeting held by the migrant worker community in Incheon. I explained the present situation regarding their rights and when I left, it was dark outside.

By the way, sorry for the lateness in showing my appreciation for your coming to Myeongdong Cathedral to cheer up the migrant workers. I have been really busy and haven't had a moment to sit down and write a thank-you note. I hope you understand the situation and can forgive me.

The time has gone so fast since then. Migrant workers from all over the country and representatives of related migrant worker organisations began a strike three weeks ago, on July 22.

It was into its tenth day when you visited us. I assume I looked awful. I never knew how hard it was to be sitting down outside for so long. It has been particularly hard to cope with on rainy days because the Cathedral authority hasn't approved us to put up tents during the terrible weather. Most of us had dermatitis all over our bodies from constantly being wet with sweat from the heat or from the rain. Mosquitoes bit our fatigued bodies at night. The sun rose just as we finally got to sleep, and then the church bell would ring every morning at 6 o'clock. We were almost too exhausted to sleep or eat, but we persisted with our cause.

I remember you asking me why I do such a difficult job. I just smiled at you then, but now I am willing to give you an answer. The government announced a so-called 'Improvement Plan for Foreign Manpower' on July 17. It uncovered the government's immorality and ignoble attitude. Ten years of low salaries and long working hours wasn't only extreme exploitation, but also an abandonment of human rights.

However, instead of reconsidering the system, the government has extended the industrial trainee system and introduced voluntarily reporting within a certain period. In other words, it would exercise extensive control over those migrant workers that didn't report and leave Korea before March next year. Since the announcement, the media and migrant worker human rights experts have criticised the plan, but there hasn't been any reaction from the government. As you already well know, that's a typical government attitude.

We all realised we were the only ones to face Koreas huge human rights abuses and that our desperate voice was just vanishing in the air. A series of government announcements, such as, "Extensive control and expulsion to home countries from August 1", "Will relocate industrial trainees to the labour vacancy", provoked the situation even more. And of course we were desperate enough to do anything we could to stop this from happening.

Because it was an emergency situation, we choose to have an extreme reaction, but we werent prepared. Some migrant workers were full of enthusiasm for the government's new policy, launched on March 25, which they believed guaranteed another years legal stay. Even migrant worker related organisations hopefully believed the government's saying they need to register foreign workers to figure out their actual situation and to provide rational foreign manpower system.

We staged the sit in strike at Myeongdong Cathedral, where we were gathered day and night. We had a rally in downtown Seoul to let others know what was going on. We also visited the Prime Minister's office and gathered at the Korea Federation of Small and Medium Business (KFSB). People were not very interested when we first started our protests, but we could sense the issues were starting prick people's consciences. Day by day, the core of migrant workers and Chinese-Koreans who had protested from day one, witnessed more and more migrant worker's voluntarily join the rally and confirm that we are a united community

Two thousand people gathered to raise voices on the weekend. We shouted, "Abolish the slave-like trainee system", "We are human beings. We want a human life," for hours in the severe heat. People saw how serious we were and sensed the warm humanity in us. Although the migrant workers involved are now resting their fatigued bodies, they are our brothers and sisters, whom form a foundation stone in supporting our society and economy.

I now know how truly beautiful humans can be after seeing migrant workers and officials from migrant worker related organisations protect their rights. They rallied and spoke in Korean to convey their willingness to be part of Korea.

I know it is a tough and difficult fight, but we all believe victory is ours. Every migrant worker confirms that they are the main body of this movement now. They participate with more enthusiasm and sacrifice than ever, and their willingness to join in, no matter how difficult it may be, grows. Their passion makes me cry.
Do you understand the emotion I get from this humanity? Sorry for not keeping my thoughts to myself, but I cant hide them.
Anyway, the resolve of migrant workers is growing every day. I also saw their bravery at the meeting held today in Incheon. I have realised that its not only dream which you and I have imagined of people can live together as equal human beings.

"Sure, dreams come true!"

The rains now become stronger than it was just a minute ago. Strong winds accompany it, as if its telling us about the coming of a hard test, but I know the sun will shine again when it stops. The rainy season is with us every year, but I suppose Ill remember this one as being extraordinary.

That's all for now. Be well till I see next time.
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