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S. KOREA. Migrant Workers in Struggle

by no chr.! Wednesday, Dec. 07, 2005 at 11:27 PM

Migrant workers in S. Korea’s capital Seoul are occupying the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC, actually a part of the S. Korean government). Here a report from the situation yesterday and today, local Korean time.

Several activists of the Migrant Workers‘ Trade Union (MTU) occupied yesterday (Dec. 5) the Commission 13 th floor office at 10 a.m. after they held a press conference where the workers criticized a recent proposal made by the Commission. The Commission decided that the Immigration Office should NOT be held accountable for the arguably 'illegal' arrest and detainment of Anwar Hossain, the elected chairman of MTU, the migrant workers' union leader. The proposal means that it was perfectly legal to arrest and detain him. (f**cking bullsh*t!) So Anowar Hossain cannot be temporarily released from the detention center. Angry at the proposal, migrant workers occupied the Commissioner's office at 13th floor. And the occupation is still going on. (Dec. 6, a.m. 1:30)

Dec. 5, the beginning of the occupation of NHRC

It's the second day of the occupation today (Dec. 6, a.m. 12:00). As of this moment, there is no urgent danger of arrest. Occupying migrant workers will hold a press conference at 11 a.m. today. One of the migrant workers' demands is to have a meeting with the Commissioner of the NHRC so that they can openly criticize the National Human Rights Commission's hypocricy and it's biase to the Immigration Office.

Today, Dec. 6, the morning press conference in the occupied NHRC

A lawyer for the Migrant Workers' Trade Union (MTU) consulted to the occupiers that if this occupation lasts for a long time, then the police may use force to break the occupation or/and arrest them. In the mean time, MTU is trying hard to get the word out that Anwar Hossain was illegally arrested and he must be released immediately. Also the Commission should admit their responsibility. According to the „law“, the Commission cannot make another proposal on the same issue. Once it is made, it is final. And so migrant workers' union considers filing another petition regarding to Anwar Hossain.

The MTU members have said that they will not leave until the issue is resolved to their satisfaction. That is that the NHRC reverse their decision and recommend the full release of Anwar from the Cheonju detention center.

Following the text of MTU’s last urgent appeal and the background of the story:

Demand the Immediate Release of Anwar Hossain, President of Migrant Workers' Union, KCTU! Stop Crackdown on Migrant Workers!

A. Hossain behind bars, in the "Immigration Processing Center", aka prison in Cheonju

On May 14, 2005, Anwar Hossain, president of the Migrants' Trade Union in Korea, was forcibly arrested by more than 30 Korean immigration officials in the early hours of the morning. Anwar was beaten by immigration police and had to receive treatment for the injuries that were sustained at the time of his arrest. Anwar has been languishing in Cheonju Detention Center, about two hours south of Seoul, since his arrest in May. In the detention center, Anwar was been isolated from detainees who speak Korean or Bangla, and is only allowed association with those he cannot communicate with. He physical health has also been steadily deteriorating since his capture.
Immediately after Anwar was arrested, MTU filed suit in Korea's courts and appealed to the Korean National Human Rights Commission requesting a temporary release of Anwar. In their investigation, the KNHRC found that Anwar's arrest was actually illegal. According to Korean immigration law, a warrant must be issued within 48 hours of an arrest. In Anwar's case, more than 52 hours passed before a valid warrant for his arrest was issued. It was later found out that there was actually a warrant issued within the initial 48 hour period, but it was signed by an employee who doesn't have the authority to issue warrants. However, due to this evidence, the KNHRC has sided with immigration officials and denied recommending the full release of Anwar, as well as the temporary release of Anwar. This means that Anwar will have to remain in the detention center until the outcome of his court case, which could take several years to resolve as it is still in the lowest level of the court system and will likely be appealed until it reaches the highest level of the Korean court system, the Special Court.
Anwar is not a criminal. The KNHRC investigation has shown that his arrest was illegal, and continuing to detain him is not only illegal according to Korea's own immigration laws, but also inhumane. Demand justice for Anwar! Please send a letter to the Korean Ministry of Justice and the Korean National Human Rights Commission demanding the full release of Anwar Hossain. A sample letter follows.
Take Action!

The English history and reports about MTU's and formers ETU-MB's activities you can read here.

Please send a copy of your letter to
Send a letter to Cho Young-hwang, the Chief of the KNHRC:

Dear Mr. Cho,
It has come to my attention that Anwar Hossian, President of the Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon Migrants' Trade Union is still in detention at the Cheonju Detention Center just south of Seoul. While in detention, his health has been steadily deteriorating and he has been denied association with people he can communicate with. This isolation is making his mental health suffer in addition to his physical health, and is a form of torture. Furthermore, you found through your own investigation that his arrest was actually illegal because an arrest warrant was not issued within the legal time frame set forth by Korean immigration law.
Mr. Hossain is not a criminal and it is not just treat him like one. I implore you to release Mr. Hossain immediately, pending the outcome of his lawsuit. To do otherwise is clearly politically motivated and an obvious ploy meant to thwart the Migrant' Trade Union organizing efforts.

Yours sincerely,

Send a message to the Minister of Justice: (This is a little difficult because the website is in Korean, but please try. Here are instructions. ) Use this link to access the freeboard on his homepage: Next, click on the green button on the far right hand side. It looks like this: This will open a new page. At the very bottom of that page, there is a small grey icon that looks like this:
It means 'write'. Click on it. The first line asks you for a subject: "Release Anwar Hossain" The second line asks you for your email address. The third line asks for your name. Finally, you can enter the text below. The last thing you have to do is enter a password at the bottom of the form. You can write anything here and it will work.

Dear Mr. Cheon,

It has come to my attention that Anwar Hossian, President of the Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon Migrants' Trade Union is still in detention at the Cheonju Detention Center just south of Seoul. While in detention, his health has been steadily deteriorating and he has been denied association with people he can communicate with. This isolation is making his mental health suffer in addition to his physical health, and is a form of torture. Furthermore, it was found through an investigation conducted by the Korean National Human Rights Comission that his arrest was actually illegal because an arrest warrant was not issued within the legal time frame set forth by Korean immigration law.
Mr. Hossain is not a criminal and it is not just treat him like one. I implore you to release Mr. Hossain immediately, pending the outcome of his lawsuit. To do otherwise is clearly politically motivated and an obvious ploy meant to thwart the Migrant' Trade Union organizing efforts.


A Brief History of the Migrants' Trade Unions
MTU was officially formed on April 28th, 2005, after a 14 year history of struggle against Korea's oppressive and racist immigration laws, as well as unfair, unsafe and discriminatory workplace practices. The history of the migrant workers struggle started in 1991 in the small town of Maseok, when migrant workers banded together to fight an employer who refused to compensate an employee for a workplace injury. Through direct actions such as strikes and protests, migrant workers were able to achieve victories at their work sites. These victories led the formation of a larger group of migrant activists who began challenging not only employers, but also the Korean government. Eventually, in 2002 they would come together to form ETU-MB- the Equality Trade Union, Migrants' Branch.
Starting in November of 2003, ETU-MB staged a 377 day sit-in struggle at Myeong Dong Cathedral in protest of the crackdown on migrant workers in Korea, as well as the implementation of Korea's immigration law called Employment Permit System (EPS). After the sit-in struggle in Myeong Dong, MTU was formed so that migrant workers could have power within their own organization and make decisions for themselves. MTU is the only organization in Korea that is organized and led solely by migrant workers in Korea. They are still struggling against EPS and the constant crackdown on Korea's migrant workers.


From the beginning, the South Korean government refused to recognize the Migrant Workers Trade Union (MTU) and publicly announced that the MTU could not have the three basic labor rights---the right to organize, the right to strike, and the right to collective bargaining. In addition, the South Korean government launched an all-out campaign to repress the MTU. During a press conference held by the MTU to announce its formation, immigration officials secretly videotaped the proceedings in an effort to specifically target migrant workers participating in the MTU. Clearly, the arrest of President Anwar is a direct attempt by the South Korean government to repress the MTU and crackdown against migrant workers in South Korea.
The recent repression by the South Korean government is not new. The government has consistently targeted migrant workers activists who have been arrested and deported. In 2003, many migrant workers were labeled as “terrorists” and forcibly deported. Samar Thapa, a key leader of the ETU-MB and the Myeong Dong sit-down demonstration was “kidnapped” in broad day light by immigration officials and deported in an effort to stop the mobilization efforts by migrant workers.
Like all workers in South Korea, migrant workers should be treated with dignity and respect. Migrant workers should be guaranteed the same fundamental labor rights that are enjoyed by native workers. Despite the government crackdown and threats of deportation, the MTU will continue to organize and fight for the rights of migrant workers. On behalf of more than 400,000 workers in South Korea, MTU calls on the South Korean government to stop the crackdown against migrant workers and recognize the labor rights of migrant workers.
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