Fire at immigration detention center points to rights abuses

Posted on : 2007-02-12 12:55 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
No light, poor ventilation, violation of immigration laws cited

A predawn fire at an immigration detention center in Yeosu, South Jeolla Province on February 11 killed nine foreigners detained in the facility. The fact that foreigners at such centers in other regions such as Incheon and Hwaseong have been complaining about poor conditions suggest that similar incidents could occur.

Two Bangladeshis detained in the Hwaseong detention center said that their room was very dark because it did not get much sunlight or air. A Pakistani detained there said, "The room has no window, so I have not seen sunlight for the past 20 days."

In consequence, if a fire breaks out in the facility, ventilation for prisoners would be quite poor.

Jo Jeong-hwan, an official at the Hwaseong center, agreed that there was no sunlight available for the detainees.

An official of Incheon’s immigration detention center said, "Three sides of the rooms are walls and a remaining side has only a small hole for distributing food, like a concentration camp," adding, "I know it would be dangerous if a fire were to occur." The official asked not to be named.

A report released by the National Human Rights Commission of Korea noted, "Foreigners in such centers are detained in an average space of 1.84 pyeong (1 pyeong equals 3.3 square meters) space per person. Unlike criminal correction facilities, which are often equipped with sports facilities, conditions at immigration detention centers are poor considering the fact that those detained must spend 24 hours a day there."

According to a survey of those detained at 16 immigration detention centers nationwide, 79.7 percent out of 184 respondents replied that they had been forced to wear handcuffs or other restraining devices.

Such detention centers hold people waiting to leave South Korea after being caught illegally staying in the nation. As soon as problems such as passport preparation and wage payment are resolved, these detainees are deported. But according to legal experts, there are not sufficient legal grounds to detain behind jail bars foreigners who have only violated immigration laws.

According to Lee Jeong-won, an official of the Alliance of Migrant Labors, the background of the tragedy in Yeosu is South Koreans’ way of thinking, which holds that those foreigners violating rules of sojourn should be detained without a warrant, he said. In addition, rules enforced at such shelters have no basis in existing immigration laws, said Lee. Rules at such shelters are based on many arbitrary factors and result in human rights abuses, he said.

The Yeosu immigration detention center where the tragedy occurred last week held long-term detainees. Besides Yeosu, Cheongju and Hwaseong have such large foreigners-only detention centers, and there are 21 small short-term detention centers inside of immigration centers. In total, up to 1,410 persons can be held in both types of facilities; currently, 897 foreigners are detained in South Korea


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