SPEAK’s Solidarity Statement at the 2017 International Migrants’ Day Demonstration

On December 17th, 2017, SPEAK gave a solidarity statement at the International Migrants’ Day Demonstration held in Gwanghwamun. The statement is as follows:

“Friends, today we mark Migrants’ Day. I am a migrant like many other Koreans who have migrated all over the world for many reasons. The way I became a migrant was I was sent to be adopted overseas.

My migration, along with more than 200,000 others who were sent abroad by Korea, helped to create the ‘Miracle on the Han.’ Korean migrants worked as nurses and miners in West Germany, did construction work in Saudi Arabia, imported socks and wigs in the United States, and worked in the garment industry in Argentina and Brazil, turning South Korea from a very poor country to the 12th richest in the world with their remittances. With Korea’s huge diaspora and long history of turning its people into migrants, shouldn’t Korea be more sympathetic and aware of migrant rights?

Of course, I was too young to work when I left Korea in 19XX, but I did bring dollars into Korea. How much money did you earn as a baby? South Korea gets up to 200 million won for each baby sent overseas for adoption by the adoption agencies now. Don’t you think that’s a lot for a baby to earn?

For the last 65 years, people in rich countries in North America, Europe, and the Pacific sent money, and Korea sent its children. Korea is still creating migrant adoptees. Last year 260 babies were sent out of Korea to be adopted by foreigners.

It costs up to US $40,000 for westerners to adopt a Korean baby. Most of us never see close to that while we are living in Korea because we mostly return as ‘foreigners.’ How can we be foreigners in the country we were born in?

Our Korean citizenship was cancelled when we were sent away, so we must get visas to legally live here. To work here. Yes, we are usually privileged having resident visas separate from our employment, but the F4 visa limits the jobs we can legally do. We cannot work in service jobs because most of us do not have the diplomas and certificates to work in kitchens, bars, and the service industry, so we do work ‘underground.’

And, just like migrant workers everywhere, we often face problems like wage theft and discrimination. We encountered racism in the west where we are minorities and immigrants. Then we are discriminated against again when we return to Korea where ‘foreigner’ means ‘white’ person in the most popular industry for us, English language teaching. We look too Korean! We are not considered ‘native English speakers’ even though 한국말 못 해요. We are paid less than ‘real’ foreigners and we do not get housing or housing pay because we are ‘Korean.’

So today for International Migrants’ Day we tell Korea, ‘Migrants from Korea AND in Korea have human rights! End discrimination! Let us work freely!’ To you, our fellow migrants, we say, ‘We are with you in solidarity! We can win this fight together! 투쟁!'”

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