Thursday, March 08, 2007

Arrests sought for the Yeosu fire

From the Joongang Ilbo:
South Jeolla police said yesterday that a detainee at the Yeosu Immigration Office set the fire [...], and sought arrest warrants for four security guards on charges of neglecting their duties. Police are investigating eight guards at the center who were on duty that night [...] The guards at the immigration center, operated by the Justice Ministry, did not properly watch the rooms and initially tried to keep the detainees inside the building, causing more deaths and injuries, police said.
Will it be mentioned that the Justice Ministry had the guards working 24 hour shifts, and that the fire took place at the end of that shift? Or will the guards be made to take all of the blame? While they seem to have acted irresponsibly, the system is what needs to be scrutinized, and not just the actions of the people employed within that system.

Also, as it said above, the police have determined that the man suspected all along must have set the fire, based on circumstantial evidence:
“Based on two lighters found at the site, testimony from detainees, and video clips from a security camera, we concluded that the Chinese man set the fire,” Mr. Kim said. [...] The Chinese man was prepared to escape, police said, as he wore many layers of clothes, including cotton pants, sweat pants and long underwear, and also had 130,000 won ($137) wrapped around his left ankle with a rubber band.
While the police could very well be right, the first things that popped into my head were the reports I'd heard about insufficient heating and blankets in the detainment centers, as well as simply asking if there would have been any better place to keep 130,000 won in a detainment center cell shared with 7 other people. I guess I'm not alone in those thoughts, as the KCTU held a press conference yesterday (in Korean) denouncing the police statement and asking the same questions.

While I'm at it, the photos related to the fire turned up by a search on naver can be found here.

Also, a commenter pointed out that the Seoul immigration website has a pop-up window reading, "At this time the Justice Ministry offers prayers for those who died in the Yeosu fire and prays for the quick recovery of the injured," which is the least they could do. Well, actually the least they could do is nothing, so I guess this is one step better. It's odd that there's nothing on the English language website, but then that kind of says something about their attitude towards foreigners anyways.

Speaking of which, the government has come up with new visa rules for ethnic Koreans from Russia, central Asia, and China, making it easier for them to work in Korea for up to five years, and allowing those who have overstayed their visas for less than a year elligible to apply:
The new visa rules are designed to help expand visa and job opportunities for ethnic Koreans from countries that have been relatively neglected compared to countries like the United States or Japan, and to ease labor shortages in low-wage jobs in small and medium-sized firms in South Korea. [...]

Mr. Kang said the expansion was aimed to help ethnic Koreans “who became illegal immigrants because of the complex procedures for getting a job under the previous visa rules.”
Y'know, there are a lot of people “who became illegal immigrants because of the complex procedures for getting a job”, but the government seems to be concerned only with helping those who are ethnic Koreans. Not to say that this isn't a good thing, as, of course, it was mostly Chinese citizens of Korean descent who died in Yeosu, and they are discriminated against to be sure (just watch Kim Dong-won's short documentary, "Jongno, Winter," about an ethnic Korean from China who froze to death in downtown Seoul in December, 2003, while waiting for unpaid wages), but the point is that people from many different countries have suffered under the current rules, not just ethnic Koreans.

On the topic of ethnic Koreans, the Hankyoreh has a story well worth reading about the discrimination North Korean refugees face living in South Korea (at the bottom of the page are links to other stories), which just goes to show the difficulty foreigners face, even when they're ethnic Koreans, when they try to fit into Korean society.

(Crossposted at Two Koreas)

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