Us on This Spring Day

us on this spring day

Lee Sang-jae (Head of Education and Public Relations Team, Korea Migrant Workers’ Human Rights Center)

It was last spring. In the fire at the Yeosu Foreigner Shelter, 10 migrant workers were trapped in iron bars and lost their lives. As I went to Yeosu and worked for the task force for two months, the thought that came to me was that Korean society still does not regard them as people. Even as a fire broke out and smoke engulfed the shelter, the shelter staff did not open the iron windows in time to prevent them from escaping. He was not a person, so he was merely an object of management who did not have even the minimum basic rights. The bereaved families shed tears that were redder than the camellia flowers blooming in Odongdo, but those who were trapped in iron bars and collapsed while shouting to open the door did not speak any more. 
The fire at the Yeosu Foreigner Shelter was more of a deep sadness than despair. The inhuman system of our society that prevents people from seeing and treating people as people, the savage appearance of our society, which gives even a small hope after announcing its existence through death, came closer to sadness than despair. Returning to the area with that sadness, the Incheon Area 420 Joint Struggle for the Disabled was newly appointed. It was a place I visited with a belated awareness of the one-sided solidarity I had always received. 
The reality of the people with disabilities we encountered in person was shocking. I have to confess that the first meeting was very uncomfortable. ‘Before I learned about the disability movement, I’ve only been out of the house three times in the past 47 years. All three of them were taken to the hospital by ambulance. After hearing the story of a disabled activist in an electric wheelchair, saying, ‘Many people with disabilities will still be living like me.’ Through the past results of the struggle for the disabled and the media reports, I was vaguely thinking that ‘it has improved a lot’. I was very ashamed of myself for introducing myself as a human rights activist.
Half of Multicultural Policies
These days, I wonder if the way I look at migrants or migrant workers is the same as mine last spring. The government is competitively creating policies such as the ‘Basic Act on the Treatment of Foreigners in Korea’ and the ‘Multicultural Families Support Act’ among ministries and departments, and regardless of the central and local governments, festivals under the name of multiculturalism are made with a large budget. In line with this, the media are clamoring for a picture of an international marriage migrant woman dressed in a beautiful hanbok smiling brightly, and clamoring that our society has now entered a multicultural society. And we are holding a large-scale commemoration ceremony (?) by making World People’s Day, which is not known on what basis it was made. Damn that would be a lot better. 
However, if you look inside, there are only a few migrants and migrant workers who benefit from the improved migrant world. The multicultural society the government calls for in the ‘Basic Act on the Treatment of Foreigners in Korea’ is just a pavement to attract foreigners and professional manpower who already have a lot of capital. In the Basic Act, undocumented migrant workers are excluded from the definition of foreigners treated as foreigners in Korea. Such exclusion and discrimination are also the same in the ‘Resident Alien Support Ordinance’ enacted by local governments. The ‘Multicultural Family Support Act’, which was promoted and enacted by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family last year and will come into effect from September this year, also restricts multicultural families to multicultural families in which one of the spouses has Korean citizenship. Families married to migrants are at least excluded from their rights. In February of this year, the children of migrant workers who attended school were all subject to deportation and were expelled. This is the current multicultural policy of the government.
Policies for marriage migrant women are no different. Although various government-supported projects are being carried out across the country, the essence of the project is simply ‘a project to make a Korean for the convenience of Korean men. The most explicit is the mandatory social integration education promoted by the Ministry of Justice. Social integration while ignoring the gloomy reality of international marriages, where you have to throw yourself out of the apartment window a month after you got married in Korea and end the grim reality on your own, and die alone in extreme pain after your Korean husband broke your entire rib It is another violence the state commits against international marriage migrants to force education on the premise of acquiring nationality, which is also a means of human rights violations that are being suffered by international marriage migrant women. It is a matter of perspective that the various policies that have been created and implemented with a large budget are half-way from the start. It is the result of the parties being excluded from the policymaking process. It clearly shows the intention to differentiate and control migrants within the minority without change and effort by the majority to create a comfortable society.
What kind of multicultural society is it without guaranteeing the right to live, the right to work?
The reality of about 460,000 migrant workers, who make up the majority of migrants, and in particular, about 230,000 undocumented migrant workers, is not getting better, but is actually taking a step backwards. Like the disabled people who fell off a subway lift and got hit by a car while trying to get on a bus, they were pushed into anti-human rights enforcement and deportation and fell and died from a motel room on the 10th floor, jumped off the roof of a factory on the 3rd floor and bent their backs, to get 6 months’ worth of pay This is what migrant workers are facing today when they go to the Ministry of Labor and have to be handcuffed instead of paid and locked in a shelter cage. 
The reality of migrant workers registered with the state is not much different. When the government implemented the Employment Permit System in 2004, it made a fuss, saying that ‘discrimination against migrant workers is now gone’, but the harmful effects of the industrial training system, which are called modern slavery and exploited by migrant workers, remain intact. It is not possible to move the workplace without the consent of the business owner. So, in order not to become an undocumented migrant worker, you have to endure all sorts of human rights violations and unfair treatment. Otherwise, you will have no choice but to become undocumented migrant workers who have to be pushed from the roof on the third floor. Excessive entry fees, a short three-year rotation system, and the prohibition of accompanying families speak of our society’s view that still treats migrant workers as machines that can be used for a while. 
Just like the disabled who jumped on the subway tracks due to the desperation of the parties involved, migrant workers are also jumping into the railroad tracks of repression. At the forefront, there are those who are enduring all kinds of oppression by the government and capital with their bare body. They are migrant workers and union members. ‘Where in the world are migrant workers’ unions? The intensity of oppression against them is increasing violently at the words of the 2MB president, ‘Make the illegal stay zero (0)’. 
On May 2, Torner and Sovre, chairman of the Migrant Workers’ Union, were targeted by the employees of the Ministry of Justice Immigration Office and were forcibly deported from this land. It is a state violence against human rights that was carried out again five months after the three migrant union leaders were targeted and forcibly deported in November last year. It is not a special right to form a union to protect basic labor rights. Already, our Constitution and the United Nations’ Covenant on Civil and Political Rights recognize the right for everyone, and it is a minimum right, such as the right to breathe, for everyone. As such, even the minimum rights guaranteed by the Constitution for migrant workers are too easily ignored by the public authorities.
The government’s joint crackdown on undocumented migrant workers began in May. The quota for each region has been lowered, and immigration officials across the country are pounding their feet to set fire to their feet. In the meantime, the minimum warrants required to detain a person have been completely ignored, and anti-human rights behaviors of seeing migrant workers with handcuffs first were committed. It is a reality that cannot but be concerned about what may happen.
Even if 30,000 migrant workers are driven out of this land every year by committing all kinds of human rights violations in this way, the number of undocumented migrant workers is on the rise. Perhaps the government knows. The fact that the 2MB president’s instructions cannot be followed only by crackdown and deportation without a fundamental solution. So, the only way to zero illegal stay is to completely legalize undocumented migrant workers, who have sweated harder than anyone else and have already adapted to Korean society and have become reliable partners. Anyone who has ever pondered this issue knows it well. Nevertheless, the current state of our government is that no one can tell the truth. It’s so obvious in the mad cow disease beef issue that I don’t need to say any more.
Different but Similar Movements Although the
disabled and migrant worker movements are different, they have a lot in common. The key issue of this year’s 420 joint struggle in Incheon was night school for the disabled. Since many of you already know about it, I won’t mention it here again. To protest against Incheon City and the Office of Education, we had to hear the story of the protest tent being removed as it was a hindrance to commemorating the Day of the Disabled on April 20. The reality is that you don’t know whether to laugh or cry. 
There are two things that I learn anew while watching the night school struggle with dandelions and the little one in Incheon this year. Our request is not that we should be treated special. The very simple, perhaps, all the minority movements’ demands to ensure universal access without being alienated from the existing institutions and systems are different only in slogans, but the truth is the same. And most of all, I desperately realize that the desperation of the parties is the power to change the world. Although I, as an indigenous person, is representing the reality of migrants, I think the migrant worker migrant movement will soon change and develop with the power of the actors. It is still not an easy situation, but this spring, I confirm that the seeds of hope are sprouting all over the country. Please encourage me.
# This is an article published by the Human Rights Institute for Persons with Disabilities.

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