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Pastor sues after Mongolian worker dies

How an illegal migrant worker died in custody

Amarbayasgalan (Amaraa, right) and his wife in Korean in 2008 (Photo courtesy Pastor Ariunbold of Galil Mongolian Church in Seoul) Amarbayasgalan (Amaraa, right) and his wife in Korean in 2008 (Photo courtesy Pastor Ariunbold of Galil Mongolian Church in Seoul)
  • John Choi, Seoul
  • Korea
  • November 2, 2012
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Mongolian Amarbayasgalan (Amaraa), an undocumented migrant worker, was caught by immigration officers during a raid in Seoul in August. Three days later, he was found dead at the deportation center.

On August 24, Amaraa was sent to Hwaseong Immigration Processing Center, where a medical team examined him and prescribed treatment for acute alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Immigrants’ rights advocates say he was probably not given the medication, and late the following evening, he was put in a solitary holding cell after other detainees complained about his screaming. He was found dead a few hours later.

A postmortem later revealed that he died of heart failure caused by alcohol withdrawal.

Amaraa came to South Korea in 2006 and was working at a moving company to support his wife and two sons, aged eight and five, in Ulaanbaatar.

As a legal representative of Amaraa’s family, Pastor Ariunbold from the Galil Mongolian Church in Seoul is filing a lawsuit against the Justice Ministry and the processing center, seeking compensation for the family.

"The processing center housed Amaraa for three days, and it should have offered proper medical treatment for him. He was kept alone in a room without any help," Pastor Ariunbold said.

“To avoid another victim, we decided to take stern action against the Korean government,” he added.

Amaraa's death is a typical example of how undocumented foreign workers are treated, a rights activist said.

“He could be alive today if he had proper medical care from external facilities. And no one in the Justice Ministry shows concern over his death,” said Ahn Eun-jung,  from the Dasan Human Rights Center.

“According to another foreigner at the center, Amaraa kept appealing for help in Korean,” Ahn said.

Police investigated the incident by reviewing closed-circuit video from the center’s security camera, but they decided there was no criminal case.

So far, the Ministry of Justice has refused to comment.

Udaya Rai, president of the Migrants’ Trade Union, told ucanews.com: “We, migrant workers, have the right to proper medical care regardless of our status.”

This is not the first case of a migrant worker’s death in an immigration processing center. In 2007, there was a fire at a center in Yeosu that killed 10 detainees and injured 17.

According to a report issued by the National Human Rights Commission of Korea last January,  there have been severe human rights abuses in all four immigration processing centers in the country.

In interviews with 412 detainee, the commission found that 14 percent had been beaten.

Activist Ahn said, “Nobody takes the responsibility for these deaths and the government puts them down to the workers' own fault.”

She continued, “Migrant workers are not coming to Korea to die but to live and support their families. They become victims of crackdowns as they are undocumented and their rights are abused. The government should take measures to stop it.”

Father Andrew Hur Yun-jin, secretary of the Korean bishops' Committee for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Foreign Residents Living in Korea, said the process should follow the law.

“We need to raise awareness that crackdowns and deportation of workers are not all we need to do,” he said. “We need to see the reality of the migrant workers and seek reasonable solutions for the undocumented workers.”

According to Korea Immigration Service, as of 2010 there were 1,261,415 foreigners staying in South Korea. Among them, 168,515 were undocumented and most were migrant workers.

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