Tragic fire a grim reminderA fire broke out at dawn yesterday at a protection facility for illegal immigrants in the Yeosu Immigration Office. Eight people in custody were killed and 19 more suffered severe injuries. The inmates at the facility were all illegal immigrants who were being held in custody before repatriation. It is a tragedy that some of the inmates met such a terrible fate that occurred due to the neglect of our government. Our condolences go out to the families who lost their loved ones.
This incident shows just how poorly managed immigrant protection facilities are in this country. The authorities of this particular office locked the iron gates of the rooms housing the inmates, but could not find the keys to the rooms for a long time after the fire broke out. Most of those who lost their lives were locked in. The government has ordered an investigation into the fire, but as of now, it seems likely that one of the inmates, a Chinese man, set the fire on purpose. It is said that the fire broke out shortly after the man covered the CCTV camera in the room with wet tissue paper. This man had attempted covering the camera several times before, but it is reported that the authorities did nothing to prevent the man from such behavior. There should be an investigation into the possibility of whether any acts of abuse had been committed against this particular inmate by office authorities. A few years ago, this office had been denounced in the public media by a U.S. citizen who had been held in custody there for some time. The American claimed that there had been acts of human rights abuse.
The inmates who survived the fire claim that there were no fire extinguishers in the rooms or the corridors of the office building. It is hard to understand how such a building could have passed the fire department’s mandatory inspection last year. This four-story building was built only two years ago and there were no laws regulating it to install fire sprinklers. This incident is just another example of how astonishingly lax our fire and emergency laws are.
The Yeosu Immigration Office fire could very likely turn into a diplomatic issue. Imagine how we would react if our citizens met with such a fate in a foreign country. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade should issue a sincere and heartfelt apology to the families and countries of the victims and take necessary measures to settle any diplomatic problems. Whether we like it or not, Korea will be seeing more illegal immigration in the future. The authorities claim that lack of budgeting makes it hard to run properly-managed protection facilities for illegal immigrants. The Ministry of Justice should attend to this problem while the National Emergency Management Agency should reinforce safety.