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Action Alert: Support migrant workers in South Korea!

By May 20, 2008No Comments

Torner Rimbu, the president of Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon Migrant Trade Union (MTU), was deported to Nepal on May 15. Please see a letter he wrote from the Cheonju Detention Center prior his deportation.

Sign the online petition circulated by the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) at this link: Demands include:

1. Apologize for the unlawful deportation of President Torna and Vice President Sabur and stop the repression against MTU!
2. In the name of the right to freedom of association of all workers, recognize MTU’s legal union status!
3. Stop the crackdown against legalize all undocumented migrant workers!


Are migrant workers disposable?
Written by Torner Rimbu, the president of the Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon Migrant Trade Union, from the Cheongju Detention Center

My respected Koreans and migrant laborers! I greet you in struggle! They say if you want to be a great person you need to meet great people, and I have met great people like you. I have been unable to become a great activist, but I did my best.

I came to beautiful Korea to escape poverty. But as discrimination towards, and exploitation of, the weak exist everywhere, I gave all my youth wandering about during my difficult life in Korea hoping to realize my Korean Dream, but at no time was I happy.

Korean society changed as time went by, but the oppression and discrimination towards the weak did not. I was unable to receive proper treatment for injuries to my waist, neck, and disk. Once, someone made use of my legal status as an “illegal alien” to commit fraud against me, and, instead of getting legal help, I suffered more. I have worked hard for the sake of the migrant union since that time in 2003. But the biggest crisis for me came when I was fired from my company because of the “employment permit program” that began in August 2004. I had no money and could find no work; the crackdown was intensifying and I had nowhere to go. I came to think that something was wrong, and I thought migrant workers would have to raise their voices. I followed my seonbae (elders) to a sit-in at Myeongdong Cathedral. The slogans at the time were “Stop the deportations!” and “Fully legalize undocumented migrant workers!” During the 386-day sit-in struggle I learned more about Korea, and learned more still from the fine Korean seonbae I met, and their determination to struggle was handed down to me as well. A great many Koreans joined in strong solidarity, giving us much needed strength.

The Korean Ministry of Justice, however, was always out to crush the migrant union and would not let me be. On May 2, 2008, at 8:30 p.m., I fell victim to a targeted arrest operation by more than ten Seoul Immigration Office employees on my way to a candlelight protest against imports of American mad cow beef.

Why does the Korean government want to arrest and deport us? There are some 230,000 undocumented migrant workers in Korea; does it want to deport them all? Are the police and the Ministry of Justice on a joint crackdown operation from May 1 to July 31 because the president ordered it to reduce the number of illegal aliens to zero? (Editor’s note: President Lee Myung-bak said, “We should protect legal foreign laborers, but ban illegal foreign laborers from walking freely,” at a Labor Ministry briefing on March 14.) How many of our migrant worker friends are going to be hurt or killed in the course of this crackdown? If undocumented migrant workers have done anything wrong, then their only sin is having come to Korea and worked hard to achieve their dreams.

But there is still hope. There is hope because of the solidarity of many Korean citizens and migrant workers. Someday, we will meet again and struggle together and work for more ultimate things, for the abolition of all discrimination. I would ask that you afford more proactive interest in our effort, that you support us and offer your solidarity.

They say cowards kneel. They say betrayers betray. But those who are courageous struggle. All of you who have stood with us migrant workers are fine comrades. And you are courageous comrades. I may already have been deported by the time you read this, but I wish you good health. May we meet again.