A migrant worker granted permanent residency after saving woman in fire

Posted on : 2018-12-17 17:12 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Nimal from Sri Lanka suffered second degree burns and lung trauma during rescue
Nimal (center)
Nimal (center)

“I’d just eaten a meal and was heading out when the mailman said there was a fire. I ran out with a Korean coworker. I thought of my mother back home,” said a 39-year-old Sri Lankan named Nimal, in broken Korean.

During a phone call with the Hankyoreh on Dec. 16, Nimal explained how he’d rescued a 90-year-old woman living alone from a fire in Feb. 2016. Nimal said he hadn’t hesitated to rush into the burning house because of how friendly the elderly people in his neighborhood had always been to him.

Nimal was severely injured while rescuing the woman. He suffered second degree burns on his neck, head and wrists, along with lung trauma resulting from smoke inhalation. He has been taking medicine for a bad cough for nearly two years now.

After entering Korea on a non-professional employment visa (E-9) in 2011, Nimal worked at a glass factory and a plating factory. He was trying to make money to pay for cancer treatment for his mother. Even after his legal stay expired in July 2016, he kept working at an apple orchard in Gunwi County, North Gyeongsang Province. Despite being an “illegal alien” who could be deported at any time, he entered the burning house near the orchard and saved the woman’s life.

Now the government has recognized his heroism by granting him permanent residency. On Dec. 16, the Ministry of Justice announced that its foreigners’ rights and interest protection and promotion board had approved a motion to grant Nimal permanent residency with the unanimous support of the board members who attended the Dec. 13 meeting.

According to the Enforcement Decree of the Immigration Act, foreigners who have helped protect the life or assets of Korean citizens from crime, disasters or accidents can be granted permanent residency. Nimal is the first person to receive permanent residency under this provision.

“In our decision to grant permanent residency, we took into account the fact that this individual had never been involved in any crimes, that the government had officially recognized that he had been injured during a rescue and that the injuries he suffered during that rescue require ongoing treatment,” the Justice Ministry said.

After Nimal’s heroic deed became known, the LG Welfare Foundation gave him an “upright person” award on Mar. 2017. That following June, the injury he suffered was also honored by the Ministry of Health and Welfare.

Nimal said his mother passed away in the summer of 2017. Nimal’s wife, daughter (12) and son (8) live in Sri Lanka, along with his father, who has trouble getting around. Now that Nimal, who is still working at the orchard, has permanent residency, he’s able to leave and enter the country at will. “I’m going to visit Sri Lanka to see my sick father,” he said.

Nimal said he wants to keep working in Korea. “I’m looking for a good company. I appreciate the permanent residency,” he said.

The Ministry of Justice will be holding a ceremony to grant permanent residency to Nimal at the Daegu immigration office on Dec. 18, which is International Migrants Day.

By Choi Woo-ri, staff reporter

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]

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