Illegal deportation, political harassment of OFW trade union leader in S. Korea condemned

Global alliance of overseas Filipinos and families Migrante International condemns in strongest terms the illegal deportation, political harassment and manhandling of OFW trade union leader Michel Catuira last April 30 by South Korean immigration officials at the Inchion Airport in Seoul.

Catuira, a transgender, is the current president of the Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon Migrants Trade Union (MTU). He has been active in the movement for migrants’ and human and labor rights in South Korea since 2007, and has served as president of the MTU since 2008. MTU is a union founded for and by migrant workers in South Korea in 2005.

In 2010, Catuira was issued a G1 visa (miscellaneous visa for those involved in legal proceedings) as a replacement for his E9 (working) visa because of an ongoing case against the Korean immigration. He won the case in the lower court but they did not reinstate his E9 visa, prompting him to file an appeal. Catuira’s case is now being heard in the higher court. His G1 visa is valid until May of this year

Last April 30, at around 9:30pm, Catuira arrived at the Incheon Airport from the Philippines via flight 5J-194. Upon arrival, he was immediately accosted and questioned by immigration officials and was made to wait in an immigration room for several hours.

At some point he was told that he could not enter South Korea because his name had been black-listed since February 2011. He immediately complained that he could not be banned from entering Korea because he is a G1 visa holder and therefore should not be in the blacklist.

Finally, after hours of confrontation, he was forcefully and physically dragged to board a plane back to the Philippines despite his pleas that he be allowed to file an appeal after the May 1st holiday. He arrived in the Philippines on May 1 aboard Cebu Pacific flight number 5J-190.

“We condemn this incident that has caused our fellow OFW undue physical harm, emotional stress and violations to his human rights. We have every reason to believe that his black-listing is politically motivated,” said Garry Martinez, Migrante International chairperson.

As president of the MTU, Catuira has been at the forefront of work to address violations of the rights of migrants in South Korea. He has spoken out against restrictions placed on migrant workers’ freedom to change workplaces and other problems under the Employment Permit System (EPS) that lead to human and labor rights violations. He has also vocally criticized the South Korean government’s policy of immigration raids, crackdowns and deportation of undocumented migrant workers which has caused injuries, deaths and other rights abuses.

In 2010, Catuira led a sit-in protest in opposition to the government’s concentrated crackdown on undocumented migrant workers carried out in preparation for the G20 Summit (held in Seoul in November 2010). During this time, President Catuira carried out a month-long hunger strike. In November 2010, Catuira also participated in protests and other activities organized by MTU and other migrant rights organizations in response to the death of a Vietnamese migrant worker, who fell from a second story window while fleeing immigration officers during a raid. These activities included a protest visit to the Immigration Service, during which immigration officers told Catuira that, as a migrant worker, he had no right to raise a complaint with them.

“We support Catuira’s case against South Korean immigration authorities. We also call on the Philippine government to immediately release a statement of condemnation and file a diplomatic protest against this injustice against a Filipino national and migrant trade union leader. This is yet another result of the South Korean government’s criminalization of and unjust crackdown on migrant workers,” Martinez said.

Intensified crackdowns on migrant workers

Migrante International supports the Filipino community and migrant communities of other nationalities in South Korea in their fight against intensified crackdowns on undocumented migrant workers. The crackdown is a result of the government’s labor policy, the Employment Permit System (EPS). According to Martinez, the EPS has been proven flawed and anti-migrant and should be scrapped.

The Philippine and Korean government signed an agreement on the EPS in 2006. Since then, some 500,000 workers from the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Mongolia and Indonesia have been brought to South Korea under its mandate. The EPS basically allows Korean employers who have failed to hire local workers to legally employ migrant workers.

However, Martinez said, the EPS has failed to ensure benefits and protect the rights of migrant workers. “Instead, since its implementation seven years ago, cases of labor and human rights violations against OFWs and other migrant workers continue to run rampant,” said Martinez.

One of the objectives of the EPS was supposedly to increase transparency of sending and receiving workers, and consequently protect migrant workers’ rights and prevent discrimination.

“However, there seems to be no monitoring system and companies and employers violate migrant workers’ rights without being held accountable. More Korean employers have been hiring undocumented migrants to be able to evade compliance on minimum wages, benefits and leaves. As a result, undocumented workers are being targeted by the Korean government’s violent and intensified crackdowns,” he said.

Martinez, himself an undocumented OFW in South Korea for 12 years before he was deported to the Philippines, added, “The present global economic crisis has unleashed so-called ‘protectionist measures’ characterized by crackdown operations and harsher immigration policies that bear down on irregular or undocumented workers, at the expense of their human rights.”

He said, “Undocumented migrants, who inevitably provide the solution to labor shortages or the clamor for cheap labor in host countries, are marginalized and exploited. They are less able to assert their claims and are more vulnerable to abuses because of their ‘illegitimacy’.”

“Being undocumented is never reason to be stripped of one’s fundamental human rights,” Martinez said.

According to records of Migrante International, the number of undocumented Filipino workers deployed in different countries has reached approximately 900,000 in 2007. “This number has continued to increase over the years, especially in light of continued unemployment and landlessness here in the Philippines. The growing number of undocumented OFWs worldwide is indicative of the ongoing crisis of forced migration and systemic economic crisis in the country.”

Martinez called on the Korean and Philippine governments to ensure the protection of undocumented OFWs in South Korea and to work for their legalization. “Our call is for legalization, not criminalization. Human rights, regardless of status, should not be violated. Undocumented migrants worldwide contribute greatly to the economies of their host nations and to the domestic economy as well in terms of their remittances.”###