Migrant boss’s arrest sparks labor outcry
Labor activists and left-wing politicians denounced yesterday the arrest of a Bangladeshi migrant worker who played a key role in organizing a union for mostly illegal foreign factory workers.
Mohammad Anwar Hossain, 34, was arrested at about 1 a.m. Saturday by immigration officials who were waiting for him near his home in the vicinity of the Ttukseom subway station in eastern Seoul.
“People from immigration had been following Anwar for a long time, and they forced him into the government van when he was alone that night,” said another Bangladeshi worker, identified as Shakil, who helped to organize the union of about 100 workers earlier this month.
He said Mr. Hossain was now at a foreigner’s detention center in Cheongju, North Chungcheong province. He quoted Mr. Hossain as saying he was suffering from head and hand injuries.
Labor activists claimed the arrest was an attempt to stop the workers from forming a union.
“I was shocked to hear the news,” said Lee Yong-sik, a lawmaker from the Democratic Labor Party. “Is this a country where people are treated like human beings?”
Woo Sang-ryeol, head of a migrant workers’ advocacy group, said, “Foreign workers were just trying to achieve their basic labor rights. Why stop them?”
Immigration officials at the Justice Ministry rejected the criticism, however, and said Mr. Hossain was just one of many illegal workers arrested over the weekend.
“It is not up to us whether they can start a union,” a ministry official said. “We arrested him because he was staying illegally in Korea.” The official said Mr. Hossain was injured because he fell when trying to flee arrest.
Earlier this month, the ministry and the activists were involved in a different physical altercation, when the migrant workers held a press conference announcing the creation of the Migrants’ Trade Union.
The activists claimed agents had been spying on their activities and that they had seized a camera from one they uncovered at the press meeting. A protest is scheduled for Thursday at the Immigration Office in Mokdong, western Seoul.
“The government will probably try to send Anwar back to Bangladesh,” said Jeong Won-gyeong at the Migrants’ Trade Union. “We are going to hold rallies to free him first.”
by Lee Min-a