Jul. 19  2024
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Migrant Worker셲 Struggle Against Crackdown and Deportation Reaches its Highest Point

Open Letter to the President of the Republic of Korea, Roh Moo-hyun

Source  :  BASE21

by Christian / Base21 Media Activists

ETU-MB (Equality Trade Union - Migrant’s Branch, a part of KCTU/Korean Confederation of Trade Unions) - is fighting since more than one year against South Korean governments plan to deport all the so-called illegal migrant workers. But they’re now also on the point of the deepest concerns, because on Thursday July 31st the South Korean parliament, the National Assembly, wants to vote over the bill about to introduce the EPS (Employment Permit System, see also our article “Migrant Workers don’t want one modified trainee system”). This could mean that the massive crackdown and the mass deportation lie short ahead.

Because of that reason the ETU-MB initiated an international campaign for support in the struggle against implementation of EPS and preventing mass deportations. It includes an International Declaration and an open letter (everybody is free to use it as a protest petition to the president and the Minister of Justice, the addresses you’ll find on the end) to the Ministry of Justice and the President of South Korea. We call to all human rights organizations, political groups and parties to support the struggle of migrant workers in South Korea otherwise they could face a real humanitarian disaster.

Open Letter to the President of the Republic of Korea, Roh Moo-hyun

Dear Mr. President,

We are writing to you because we are deeply concerned with the government's stance with regard to migrant workers in South Korea.

As you are well aware, the migrant workforce greatly contributes to the South Korean economy as they provide small and medium sized manufacturers with invaluable labour. But the vast majority of these foreign workers are undocumented, bearing direct testiment to the unfairness of the trainee system under which these workers came to South Korea to work.

The new EPS (Employee Permit System), which will soon be brought in as a complement to the trainee system does not qualitatively change the reality of the situation at all. When scrutinized, it appears to be essentially the same as the unfair trainee system. It still puts a limit to the worker's duration in South Korea and does not allow the worker the freedom to change his/her place of work if so desired. Moreover, the provisions in the EPS do not grant migrant workers the right to strike. It is our opinion that the denial of these freedoms is tantamount to labour repression. Last but not least, the EPS will only apply to workers entering South Korea after it is implemented. The estimated 260,000 migrant workers currently in South Korea are destined to remain illegal and without permits under this new system. As such, they are vulnerable to persecution and abuse through the threat of deportation. Migrant workers currently in South Korea have a right to their livelihoods and a right to be treated as dignified human beings.

In the past, South Korea imported and exported migrant labour with little regard to these worker's humanity and dignity. Like clockwork, the government launches an annual repressive crackdown on illegal workers. But the fact that 3/4 of migrant workers are illegal despite the urgent desire on the part of these workers to gain legal status in South Korea speaks for itself: the current system is grossly unjust. These workers are not criminals but they are being forced to break the law because of the impossible and unjust conditions placed on them by government labour policy. Ostensibly, the EPS is being brought in to improve matters and legalize migrants but in the end it fails miserably. Why prohibit stays of longer than three years? (Is the South Korean government afraid that the longer they stay, the more fully aware they will become of their human rights?)

Why ban workers from changing their place of work? (How would you feel if you were prohibited by law to improve your occupational status? Or worse, be under legal obligation to stay in an abusive environment?)

Why criminalize collective action? (Workers have the fundamental right to strike if negotiation fails) The EPS shamefully perpetuates South Korea's unfair and draconian attitudes towards migrant workers. As persons concerned about human/worker rights, we implore you to use the power at your disposal to:
Stop the crackdown
Legalize migrant workers in a fair manner
Regard migrants as human beings
Give them full labor rights
Give the 5-year working visa


International Secretary

International Declaration for Migrant Workers' Demands for Achieving Working Visa and Opposing Crackdown to Undocumented Migrants in South Korea

We the undersigned migrant organizations, advocates and institutions, the Peoples Organizations, NGO's, Unions, and individuals, do hereby unite on the following:

The livelihood and condition of the people all across the globe have aggressively been worsened by the effects of neo-liberal globalization. Their plight is getting more and more twisted and chaotic everyday. Many of the people were forced to leave their country of origin and tried to find better opportunities elsewhere. Outside their country of origin these are migrants, immigrants, undocumented, refugees and displaced people.

The destructive prescription of the International Monetary Fund-World Bank (IMF-WB) and the GATT-WTO that enforces the liberalization, deregulation and privatization scheme among the third world and underdeveloped countries have served to intensify the exploitation. The proposals of the two International bodies which are controlled by the most advanced countries led by the United States promises free market competition, sustained development and high technology in the global arena and more foreign loans. In reality, it dislodges the peoples' socio-cultural and political rights. It perpetrates economic downturn, job-insecurities, low-wages; decline in social benefits and aggravates the poverty of the people. It has forcedly uprooted and continues to uproot the people from their ancestral lands, families, communities and nations. Under the masthead of globalization, the capitalist states have been aggressively pushing the neo-liberal agenda that can be reflected on the ongoing labor restructuring in many countries like Korea that affects both the local workers and migrant workers.

We strongly express our deep concern on the current move of Korean government's to purge out the undocumented migrants and the suppression of their labor rights and freedom of expression.

These migrants are forced to work abroad because of the worsening economic situation in their own homeland and to cope with the basic needs of their family. While in Korea, they contribute in the economy through the availability of their cheap labor services in the 3Ds (Dirty, Difficult and Dangerous) jobs while at the same time and contribute as active consumers in Korean Society who purchases goods and avail of services of banks, restaurants, small stores, and so on. But this contribution remains unrecognized and instead their rights are continuously suppressed.

This is a divisive policy in line with the government's agenda to maintain the Trainee System and implement the new Employment Permit System (EPS) for the new comers. Both the Trainee and the new Employment Permit system is and will not actually resolve the increasing number of undocumented migrants, as more migrants will experience more and more human rights violation.

We deplore and condemn the heightening harassments and threats against those who are opposing this scheme. To express their demand, migrants are supposed to held a rallies but was blocked an suppress by the police and other agencies of Korean government. This is a clear violation of the fundamental human rights that prep-supposes the freedom of speech. In fact the members of the Equality Trade Union-Migrants Branch (ETU-MB) are constantly under strong attacks, blacklisted and are consistently under surveillance. Even inside the Myeongdong cathedral in Seoul, the Police and intelligence officer closely monitoring and keeping eyes to members who had a Sit-in strike last year. Some protest rallies in front of the immigration office in Soul’s Mokdong qurter were brutally assaulted. Many of the supporters who joined the mass action were hurt, bruised and wounded.

We join a broad coalition of NGO's, Worker Unions, Human rights groups, and students groups supporting the migrant workers struggles.

Support the ETU-MB, Struggle Alliance and the migrant workers demands:

1. Stop Crackdown against undocumented migrants
2. Abolish the Trainee System and implement a genuine legalization program where in the currently undocumented migrants be given a working visa for 5 years.
3. Stop the suppression of their rights. Recognize and respect our rights to assemble and freedom of expression.
4. Oppose the Employment Permit System, which is worst than the Trainee System
5. Immediately provide the 3 basic labor rights (rights to unionize, collective action and negotiation) and the right to transfer in any factory without restrictions
6. Treat the migrant workers as human beings. We demand justice to all forms of physical, verbal, sexual abuses. Assure all our migrant rights and human rights.

International Declaration for Migrant Workers' Demands for Achieving Working Visa and Opposing Crackdown to Undocumented Migrants in South Korea

Unity Declaration Signatories

Name and/or Organizations Address/Country

Please, if you send your own letter to embassies or the South Korean Ministry of Justice and the President send us a copy. If you held rallies or demonstrations in your city, please send us pictures and press releases, if there are any. Our e- mail address:

The e-mail address from the South Korean President:
The e-mail address from Ms. Kang Kum-sil, the South Korean Minister of Justice:
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