Following appeal for int'l solidarity I received y'day:

S. KOREA: Migrants Die in Detention Center Fire- Request for Support

Dear allies and friends,

Greetings from the Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon Migrant's Trade Union. We are a
union formed by and for migrant workers in South Korea. Our members come
from many countries including Bangladesh, Nepal, Indonesia and Sri Lanka.

We write to inform you about a tragic fire that recently broke out in a
foreigners' detention center in the city of Yeosu in South Korea's
Southern Cholla Province. We hope you will take serious notice of this
incident and South Korea's inhumane treatment of migrant workers, which
are at its roots, and organize a response in your area in solidarity with
our efforts here in Korea.

At around 4:00am on February 11 a large-scale fire swept through the
locked cells of the detention center at the Yeosu Immigration Controls
Office, killing 9 detainees and wounding 18 others. Neither the alarm
system nor sprinklers operated when the fire broke out. The detention
center staff tried to put out the flames using portable fire
distinguishers but failed in their attempt. Even so, they did not unlock
cell doors to free the people inside out of fear that they would escape.
Migrants trapped behind locked doors and bared windows were forced to
breath in the toxic fumes emitted from burning mattresses that contained
Urethane. These fumes were the cause of most of the deaths and injuries.
The fire was not contained until after firefighters arrived on the scene.

The proximate cause of the fire is still under investigation. The South
Korean government has said it suspects arson committed by one detainee in
an attempt to escape; however it has not produced any evidence. Despite
this alibi is not hard to see that the real roots of the tragedy lie
elsewhere?봧n the government's inhumane anti-human rights policy towards
migrant workers.

There are currently roughly 400 thousand migrant workers in South Korea,
of who about 189,000 are undocumented. Migrants in Korea have come either
as 쁦ndustrial trainees" or under the government's Employment Permit
System, which places them at specific factories and prohibits them from
freely moving to other jobs. Most migrant workers experience inhumane
treatment, unsafe working environments and low and unpaid wages.
Therefore, many see no other choice but to leave their assigned jobs in
search of better conditions, thus becoming undocumented. The government
has responded to this situation with a brutal crackdown in an attempt to
diminish the number of undocumented migrants in Korea. Migrant workers are
frequently injured and killed in surprise immigration raids. What is more,
they face brutal conditions and human rights abuses in detention centers
like the one in Yeosu, which are worse than prisons.

It is because of this situation created by faulty government policies that
the tragedy in Yeosu occurred. In fact a similar fire broke out at the
same facility in 2005, but the Yeosu immigration office never conducted a
thorough inspection of its fire prevention system nor updated its
equipment. The inhumane treatment of migrant workers has also been evident
in the aftermath of the fire. 3 injured migrants were handcuffed to their
hospital beds out of fear they would try to escape. What is more, the
government is refusing to reveal information about the incident to the
bereaved families and civil society organizations.

In response, MTU has come together with migrant community and civil
society organization in Korea to form a collective response. We are
conducting a public education campaign to raise awareness about the
incident and its roots and investigating the actual condition in detention
centers around the country. We will also hold a mass demonstration on
February 25. Our demands of the South Korean government are as follows:
1. Full disclosure of the real causes and facts of the tragedy, punishment
of those responsible, resignation of the Minister of Justice and
compensation to the bereaved families.
2. Closure of all detention centers for their inhumane conditions and
implementation of steps to revise the system.
3. An end to the brutal crackdowns and legalization of all migrant workers.
4. Institution of a system for the payment of back-wages and protection of
migrant workers rights.

We ask you to please send the attached protest letter to the South Korean
embassy in your country and/or organize a protest in front of the embassy
building. Please also help us in spreading the word about this horrible
tragedy by passing this message along to your networks. Finally, after you
have conducted these activities please write us a short message and/or
send pictures to let us know.

Thank you for your support,

Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon Migrant's Trade Union (MTU)