Go to contents

Minorities, foreign laborers face hardships

Posted December. 11, 2000 15:41,   


What exactly is the human rights situation in Korea, which claims to be in line with other developed nations?

With the government, which pledges greater care for the human rights issue, taking the helm, there has been indeed great strides made for the Korean citizenry. However, for the foreigners who live in Korea, other than those from other developed nations, the issue of the human rights is truly shameful. In particular, illegal aliens working as laborers in Korea too often face treatment not fit even for animals because of their illegal status.

With Sunday designated as International Human Rights Proclamation Day, the human right issues related to three minority groups, foreign laborers, Korean-Chinese and Chinese in Korea, were sought.

Minorities in Korea:

After graduating from a prominent university in Bangladesh, Tuteul, 27, made his way to Korea with the "Korean Dream." However, today, other than making the final payment for the 8 million won cost to the labor broker, he has accomplished very little. Adding to his grievance, while working at a garment factory in Tongduchon, he tried to stop a management personnel from beating a compatriot and had both of his arms broken by a lead pipe. Although he received eight months of treatment, his arms are not as they used to be. Without any compensation, he was driven away, and because he was an illegal alien, he could not file a formal complaint. Such an attempt could lead to his deportation due to his status.

For the Korean-Chinese who make their way to Korea, they receive much the same treatment as other foreigners. Their consolation is that as they speak the Korean language, they are able to voice their grievances more effectively.

A Korean-Chinese known as Choi, 35, from Liaoning Province, came to his "homeland," Korea, five years ago. In November last year, he was employed at an automobile parts supplier company, where he worked on a press that churns out small auto parts. While working, he lost eight of his fingers with only the fourth and last fingers remaining on one hand. He lost his "life" at the machine but did not receive any compensation. He was even deprived of his back wages and unwanted by any other workplace. "His back wage, 8.5 million won, went toward his hospitalization and treatment costs," a company official said.

In the basement Songnam Home for Foreign Laborers and Korean Chinese (031-756-2143), of the Jumin Church in the city of Songnam, many people such as Tuteul and Choi come and congregate with no other place to go.

When I visited the home Dec. 8, about 10 of the foreigners who were too weak or tired to go out and work were resting in the sun or lying on the floor of the room.

Less than a home, the place only has five small rooms of about 2 or 3 pyong in size. In the small rooms lacking any ventilation, the walls are covered with stained and soiled clothes of the foreign laborers. It reminds one of the beehive slums that once were widespread in the Kuro Industrial area during the 1960s and '70s. According to Pastor Kim Hae-Sung, 10 to 20 people share each of the small rooms.

Although not foreign laborers, the Chinese in Korea face discrimination and disregard. To the Chinese living abroad, Korea remains as a unique "barren land" among the world's nations. Although the history of the Chinese living in Korea goes back well over a century and the population at one time was formidable, there are currently only about 22,000 Chinese living in Korea.

Only after the economic crisis necessitated International Monetary Fund intervention, interest was perked concerning the resources of the Chinese in Korea, and older laws that limited them from owning real estate were loosened. However, there is still a long way to go. The Chinese in Korea might graduate from a Korean university but will find obtaining a job much like reaching for the stars -- let alone being promoted should they succeed in finding a job.

They are human beings:

The wave of the foreign laborers coming to Korea began in the early 1990s, and currently there are 275,290 foreign laborers here, more than 2 percent of all laborers in Korea. Among them, the illegal aliens who have no protection by law number 179,990. A whopping 65.4 percent of the foreign laborers work for incredibly low wages, which are withheld at times, and beaten without warning or cause, even leading to death.

Most of the experts have pointed out that a legal policy for the illegal foreign laborers needs to be installed in order to protect the human rights of the minorities.

"The foreign laborers residing in Korea are those whom we must embrace, as their human rights act as the mirror that reflects the human rights achievement of Korea," Pastor Kim said. "There is an urgent need for a policy to lawfully hire Chinese nationals in Korea and a protective legal measure for the foreigners and the Chinese nationals in Korea."

Ha Jong-Dae orionha@donga.com