Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Yeosu Fire Update

Mr. Delay in Making Wage Payments, Mr. Beatings, and Mr. Safety Problems at Detention Centers are in shock at the death of "Korea as a Country that Respects Human Rights," which is survived by a foreign worker who looks like he has met them all on previous occasions.

(Hankyoreh Geurimpan, 12 February 2007)

This is an update to this post.

The Korea Times reports that arson is the most likely cause of the fire in Yeosu:
A 39-year-old Chinese-Korean detainee is suspected to have started the fire at Yosu immigration detention center [...] The interim conclusion was made after police found two cigarette lighters in the cell of the detainee named Kim Myong-sik who died on the scene together with the other detainees.

Kim entered the country through Inchon in October 2005 and worked as a construction worker in Kwangyang, South Cholla Province before being taken to the center last month. He had been behaving suspiciously weeks before the fire, according to officials at the detention center. He was caught two times smothering tooth paste on the cameras. He was alleged to have flooded his cell with water after breaking water pipes in his cell. However, Kim did not receive any disciplinary measure other than being sent to a solitary cell for five days in January.
I've also found more information on the layout of the immigration center:

The map above is scanned from Monday's Chosun Ilbo (we have a subscription at work... honest), but wasn't accessible on their website. It gives a good idea of where the fire started, which cells people died in, and how many were in each cell (which is in brackets after the cell number). To put it in numbers, four out of eight died in cell 304, where the fire started, while one out of nine died in the cell 305, compared to four out of nine in the cell 306. 26 people were in those three cells, and it would likely be them, along with one other, who make up the 27 injured or dead. For a better idea of how cell 304 was laid out, look here.

In other news, the Chinese government, known for its concern for human rights, has "called for a thorough investigation into [the] fire [...] and to take proper measures against those responsible." Hopefully the Chinese ambassador remembers that South Korea hasn't executed anyone for the last ten years; he might be disappointed otherwise.

Anyone who's been anticipating a flood of stories about how badly treated illegal workers are won't be disappointed, however. The Hankyoreh has two good stories: one about the poor conditions of the detainment centers, and another about the "culture of fear" created by immigration raids which rarely are accompanied by warrants and which may well be illegal.

The Times article linked to above is an updated version of this one, which has a few extra tidbits like this:
In a study of 16 immigration centers around the nation last year, the Human Rights Commission reported that foreign nationals kept at the facilities stay for an average of 24.9 days, which is higher than the legal limit of 20 days.
The Chosun Ilbo has an article about the complaints of relatives of those who died, some of whom weren't contacted as next of kin.
Wreathes sent by Justice Minister Kim Sung-ho and Foreign Minister Song Min-soon were laid at a temporary altar for the victims at Yosu Seongsim General Hospital. "We want to remove those wreathes," said family members. "The justice minister visited the altar Monday evening, served a cup of liquor and left without exchanging any words with the bereaved families."
This article almost makes up for the Chosun Ilbo editorial which talks about how “embarrassing” it is for Korea to have such a tragedy occur at a government facility, and ends by wondering "how many more horrible tragedies must happen before Koreans take fire safety regulations seriously." No mention is made as to why those people who "had come in search of the Korean Dream" were stuck in those cells in the first place.

The Korea Herald also has an article titled "Maltreatment of illegals shocks Korean society", which is the first in a series of five articles on the topic. These are just the articles in English. There are dozens and dozens of articles in the Korean press about this fire, so hopefully, as usually happens during a media event in Korea, the spotlight on the treatment of migrant workers will create a space for civil society to press for and achieve positive change of some sort.

Also, it wasn't until I saw this article that I realized that the English teacher who wrote the Yeosu "Prison Diaries" was known to the media here.

I'm sure there will be more to add to this in the coming days.

(Crossposted at Gusts of Popular Feeling)


  1. Hey jamie!
    I translated an article on the fire in the detention center from Chamsesang.
    How are you doing these days?
    I want to see you someday.
    A Rally Denouncing the Ministry of Justice for the Fire in Yeosu Detention Center
    "The Minister Must Resign! Close Down the Detention Centers!"
    - Reporter Jeong-pil Byeon
    Translated from Chamsesang (www.newscham.net)

    A press conference and a rally on the recent fire in Yeosu Foreigners
    Detention Center was held in front of the government building in Gwacheon
    at 1 pm on February 13th. About 100 people, including migrant workers and
    human right groups, joined the rally.

    The protesters expressed the mix of grief and fury that they felt about
    the incident. They severely criticized the government's wrong policy on
    migrant workers as the cause of the tragedy.

    Speakers on stage also pointed out that it was a murder committed by the
    government, and that the foreigner detention centers, established for the
    protection of foreigners, are actually used to imprison them.

    "Lots of migrant workers have hung themselves, run into trains, and jumped
    out of their windows. Now they are burnt to death.

    Bong-hee Ju, the representative of the emergency committee said, "The
    government and the ministry are trying to dodge their responsibility for
    the tragedy. They just focus on who set the fire to lay the blame on the
    migrant workers."

    Ju mentioned the recent court decision that judged that the migrant
    workers' trade union is legal. "I thought the situation of migrant workers
    in Korea could be better. But it was wrong. Still, lots of people hang
    themselves, run into trains, and jump out of their windows. Now they are
    burnt to death. We have to stop the tragedies, beginning at once."

    "They just sprayed fire extinguishers from the outside of the metal bars
    and left the people inside."

    Hyeon-mo Choi, the representative of Human Rights for Migrant Workers
    pointed out the horrible condition of migrant workers in the detention
    centers. "One staff member and two police officers just sprayed fire
    extinguishers from the outside of the metal bars, and left the people
    inside. But the fire wasn't put out. While they went to the 1st floor to
    bring the keys, more people went dying." The Democratic Labor Party
    members said that they saw three patients handcuffed to their bed frames
    in the hospital after being saved from the fire. This shows that the
    Ministry of Justice keeps violating the human rights of migrant workers
    even after the disaster."

    "It's a shame to live in this country."
    "Even in the U.S., undocumented migrant workers are legalized regularly."

    Young-guk Gweon from Lawyers for a Democratic Society criticized the
    government policy on migrant workers, and pointed out that Korean
    Immigration even violates their own rules and procedures. When they arrest
    a person, they have to identify the person first and show an arrest
    warrant. They are not allowed to sweep people up at random. He demanded
    the immediate abolition of iron-bar cells, an apology from the President,
    the resignation of the Minister of Justice and the punishment of the chief
    of Yeosu Detention Center. He added that the government should stop the
    crackdown and legalize undocumented migrant workers right now, taking the
    U.S. policy as an example: "Even under the U.S. policy, which is known to
    be strict on immigration, migrant workers with a five-year overstay
    regularly get a chance to be legalized."

    Migrants go through a complete strip search. Arson is impossible.

    Kajiman, the representative of the Migrant Workers' Trade Union,
    emphasized that the new Worker Permit System has intensified the crackdown
    on migrant workers, which is the more fundamental background of the
    tragedy. He was suspicious of the government investigators' argument of
    arson. He said that arson is almost impossible inside of the detention
    center because, before people are put in the detention center, they go
    through a thorough strip search. They are not even allowed to smoke. "The
    government and the Minster of Justice are responsible. Don't try to
    distract people from that. They must apologize to the migrant workers and
    suggest a fundamental solution."

    The participants made it clear that the death was caused by the wrong
    system and policy on migrant workers. Then they demanded the shutdown of
    the detention centers, the resignation of the Minister of Justice and the
    punishment of the staff in charge. They also showed their will to struggle
    to stop crackdown and legalize all undocumented migrant workers. On
    February 25th, another large rally on the same issue will be held.

    Translation : Radical Language Exchange

  2. Thank you, matt for your news summary. I always forget to give you back the books. I'm sorry!
    I'll definitely return them.
    Could you give me your address?
    I'll send them to you.
    Email me to manic@jinbo.net

  3. The rally this Sunday the 25th is at Seoul Station, 2pm

  4. Hi, a petition has been started around this, please take a look!