Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Hankyoreh editorial on International Migrant's Day

From today's Hankyoreh:

[Editorial] Ensuring the rights of migrant workers

Yesterday was International Migrants’ Day, established to celebrate the adoption of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers on December 18, 1990. Unlike other rights conventions which seek to promote rights based on citizenship and rights of residency, it called for the protection of rights regardless of legal status. The convention calls for the respect and guarantee of rights regardless of gender, race, skin color, language or any other distinction.

Korea is now in an era in which it has 500,000 migrant workers and a million immigrants, and the realities they face are so harsh and miserable that evening mentioning the convention is embarrassing. They face a host of discriminatory practices, including low wages, long hours, and the withholding of wages. Yesterday, on International Migrants’ Day, the authorities arrested “illegal aliens” in Seoul’s Dongdaemun neighborhood and other areas. We do not take issue with enforcing the law. But when the law is going to be enforced, a minimum level of civil rights procedures need to be observed. The indiscriminate way the authorities charge into residences and places of work unannounced to arrest and detain people is the same as a government admission that migrant workers have no rights.

The situation is all the more serious because of the changes the Ministry of Justice seeks to make to immigration law. The new law would allow the authorities to stop and question foreigners just for thinking them suspect. Laws governing the police require police officials to present their identification and state to what police organization they belong, even when stopping a Korean national on the street. Immigration officials should at the very least be required to identify themselves before accosting foreigners. The National Human Rights Commission once formally recommended that even when arresting illegal aliens there need to be clear parameters of authority, conditions and procedures. The Ministry of Justice’s proposed revision will allow officials to enter offices and worksites whenever they suspect there are illegal aliens inside. In other words, the revision was formulated out of consideration for nothing other than efficiency and convenience for those enforcing the law. Nowhere do you see that any thought was given to migrant workers’ rights.

It should not be that way. Migrant workers deserve the same universal rights as all of the members of our society. That belief is the convention’s point of departure. The government needs to stop determining whether their rights are respected based on whether their status is legal or not. Since it was International Migrants’ Day yesterday, the government needs to ask itself why 38 countries have signed the convention, and whether Korea still has an excuse not to ratify it.

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