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11 December 2006

The Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Professor Jorge Bustamante, issued the following statement today in Seoul:

“The Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Professor Jorge Bustamante ended a five-day visit to the Republic of Korea on 11 December 2006. Professor Bustamante thanks the Government of the Republic of Korea for having invited him to visit the country and for extending to him its full co-operation to assess the situation of migrants in the country.

During the visit, the Special Rapporteur met with senior officials from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Justice, Labour, Government Administration and Home Affairs, Labor, Gender Equality and Family, as well as with the president of the National Human Rights Commission. Professor Bustamante also held meetings with Parliamentarians, officials of United Nations agencies, representatives of non-governmental organizations, representatives of employers and trade unions. He also spent time in a migrant shelter.

Professor Bustamante welcomes the Republic of Korea’s efforts to adapt its policies in light of increasing immigration to the country. The visit has allowed him to focus on the need for comprehensive migration legislation in the Republic of Korea, to ensure that the human rights of documented and undocumented migrants are protected.

The Employment Permit System (EPS)

The Special Rapporteur held discussions on the new Employment Permit System (EPS) with various counterparts within the Government and as well with representatives of civil society.

The Special Rapporteur acknowledges that the South Korean Government has recognized the vulnerability of migrant workers and tried to increase their protection by drafting and implementing the Act Concerning the Employment Permit for Migrant Workers (EPS Act) .The South Korean Government has, by enacting the EPS Act, begun an attempt to protect the basic rights of migrant workers in South Korea.

At the same time certain aspects of the new Employment Act that will enter into force in 2007 were of concern. Most notably, the fact that the new EPS only grants migrant workers a legal status for a non-renewable period of three years means that migrant workers would remain vulnerable within the Korean community.

The Special Rapporteur notes some discriminatory measures endorsed by the new EPS particularly in relation to workers’ rights to change employment and their right to join trade unions.

The Special Rapporteur is concerned that the 2007 EPS policies and practices would not prevent further abuse against migrant workers. This would be a violation of other international human rights treaties that the South Korean government has signed and ratified, namely the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. In the same spirit the Special Rapporteur emphasizes the importance of the ratification of the 1990 the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

The Situation of Spouses in Mixed Marriages

The Special Rapporteur also notes with concern that the legal rights of foreign wives were solely depended on the consent of their Korean husbands, namely their residency permits, the custody of their children and their right to divorce, even in cases of domestic violence.

The Special Rappporteur commends the steps taken by the Government to redress the powerlessness of these foreign wives by establishing integration and insertion programs especially in rural areas. However these programs were still at a nascent stage having begun only in 2005. They needed to be expanded at a larger and faster scale as the main problems faced by mixed couples were language and the wives’ lack of access to language training.

Many foreign wives unable to understand the South Korean language remain stranded in rural areas. In many cases, these women faced severe racial discrimination, emotional and physical abuse, depression and maltreatment. Significant language and cultural barriers make their social integration very difficult and kept them unaware of their rights.

So far no legislation or policies had been sufficiently established in Korea to provide protection for these women. In their meetings with the Special Rapporteur foreign wives who had run away from abusive husbands shared their worries about their future due to their precarious or nonexistent residency status.

The Special Rapporteur highlights that the rapid increase in mixed marriages means that Korean society as a whole, including Government agencies, civil society and the local population, needs to collectively show more comprehension, support and friendship to these foreign wives.

Irregular Migrants and Undocumented Children

The Special Rapporteur notes that half of the migrant population in the Republic of Korea remain in an irregular situation; some migrants have been in the country for more than 10 years without any steps being taken to regularize them. As a result they have not been able to reunite with their families. Even when their families were staying with them in the Republic of Korea, they were deprived access to basic facilities.

The Special Rapporteur will offer the Government of the Republic of Korea recommendations on all these issues in the report he will submit to the Human Rights Council.

The Special Rapporteur encourages Government authorities and civil society to continue to work hand in hand to promote the rights of migrants in line with international standards”.

Prof. Jorge Bustamante was appointed Special Rapporteur in August 2005. The mandate on the human rights of migrants was established in 1999 to “examine ways and means to overcome the obstacles existing to the full and effective protection of the human rights of migrants, including obstacles and difficulties for the return of migrants who are undocumented or in an irregular situation”.

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