On 11 February 2007, a fire broke out at the immigration detention facilities ("the Custody Center of the Immigration Office") in Yeosu City, located in the southern part of South Korea, resulting in tragic casualties of 27 foreigners, including 10 cases of death, who had been detained due to their unregistered and other status. Many of the casualties were from China. The Yeosu Police Department concluded that the fire was set by a detainee, without presenting evidence.
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of Korea[Korean] conducted an ex officio investigation into the tragic event and published its findings on 9 April. In its report, the NHRC expressed regret that the authorities had not followed up its previous recommendations, including on the legal nature of "custody" under the existing Immigration Control Act and on reporting obligations of the relevant officials.
Specifically, the NHRC recommends amendments to the Immigration Control Act, with a view to restricting custodial measures in immigration detention facilities to the minimum extent and to introducing the principle of "remedies first, followed by reporting", in cases where foreigners are seeking for remedies for non-payment and other violations, even if they are unregistered migrants.
Meanwhile, the Joint Committee with Migrants in Korea and other civil society organizations have argued, since the tragedy, that the root causes of the catastrophe are embedded in the government's policies concerning migrant workers. They demand official compensations for the victims, measures to prevent reoccurrence and legalization of unregistered migrants. Towards the end of March, some 60 unregistered migrants conducted a sit-in for ten days at the Korean Christian Church.
The Ministry of Justice decided to provide compensations of 100 - 120 million Korean Won (some 12.5 - 15 million JPY) to each family of the dead victims and 10 million Korean Won (some 1.25 million JPY) to each injured victim. On 11 April, the injured victims hurriedly left the country after having received the compensations. They conducted a sit-in at the airport with their families who had come to see them, demanding the Ministry of Justice to guarantee their re-entry and to compensate for medical costs.
· Article by the Chosun Ilbo (6 March 2007) [Korean]
· Article by the Hankyoreh (11 April 2007) [Korean]
· National Human Rights Commission of Korea, "NHRCK Reports Findings of Ex Officio Investigation into Fire at Yeosu Immigration Office Detention Facilities"
· Joint Committee with Migrants in Korea