On Sunday, March 19, 2023, Seoul city witnessed a march organized by local human rights advocacy organizations to commemorate the 2023 International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The event was attended by various groups, including migrants and refugee rights activist groups, who joined in solidarity to raise awareness about the plight of refugees and migrants in South Korea.

This year’s march was themed: “Ensure Equality, Freedom, and Security for Migrants”, in line with the United Nation’s call for promoting inclusivity and equality for all people, regardless of their race or background. The United Nations, on its website, emphasizes that seventy-five years ago, the international community agreed on a set of common values and acknowledged that rights are inherent to every single human being and not granted by the State. These rights are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a blueprint for international human rights norms.

The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is observed annually on the day the police in Sharpeville, South Africa, opened fire and killed 69 people at a peaceful demonstration against apartheid “pass laws” in 1960. The commemoration serves as a reminder of the atrocities and discrimination that people of different races have faced and continues to face globally.

During the march, Miss Dorcas Ngalula, a Congolese refugee and member of Active Refuge Korea, delivered a speech calling for the need to raise awareness and for leaders to act with a policy of integration and protection of the rights of all citizens. Her speech highlights the importance of taking action towards ending racial discrimination and promoting equality for all.

The 2023 International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination serves as a reminder that discrimination based on race is a violation of human rights and all governments, industries, businesses, organizations, and individuals must work together to ensure equality, freedom and security for migrants.

Here is the full declaration:

Declaration for the 2023 International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination – Ensure equality, freedom, and security for migrants

March 21st is the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, designated by the UN. It’s a day to reaffirm and pledge to the obvious value that “everyone shall be equal, enjoy freedom, and safety must be guaranteed”. Do we live in such a society today?

Forced labor conditions have not improved, including exploitation of migrant workers, unpaid wages, restrictions on workplace changes, poor housing, high workplace fatality rates, and poor access to healthcare. The government is increasing the number of migrant workers without rights under the direction of “expanding the foreign labor force without rights”; by not addressing the issues including restrictions on workplace changes, poor housing conditions, and dangerous working conditions. Migrant women of various immigration statuses are facing gender-based violence. Migrant women with vulnerable status are less likely to actively respond to domestic violence. What is worse is that they cannot change their work even when sexual crimes occur in workplaces. Refugees have fled war and other chaotic international situations and knocked on Korea’s door, only to be turned away or stuck
in airports before they can set foot on Korean soil. Nevertheless, the government continues to push forward with the regressive revision of the Refugee Act, which was initiated based on some hateful sentiments and is taking the system backward. The vast majority of migrants, including compatriots, migrant youth, international students, and undocumented migrants, who live together in this society, are on the outside of rights and have to endure discrimination and hatred just because they do not have Korean citizenship or are migrants. Undocumented migrants, in particular, continue to suffer from inhumane raids and deportations, indefinite detention, and abusive practices in immigration detention centers. They face hate and discrimination in their daily lives and in the workplace because of their skin color, religion, race, or national origin.

The international community has also expressed concern about discrimination against migrants and the human rights of migrants in South Korea. In February 2023, the fourth Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the Republic of Korea, in which 98 UN member states made recommendations on the overall human rights situation in the country, raised concerns about the extremely low rate of refugee recognition and human rights violations happening in immigration detention centers, and recommended that the country “take measures to eliminate racial discrimination; develop strategies to prevent prejudice, dissemination of disinformation and stigmatization of migrants; work to protect the rights and promote the welfare of migrant workers; and revise regulations on the number of times and
reasons for migrant workers to change workplaces.” Despite these ongoing calls for improvement from civil society and the international community, the Korean government obligated to eliminate discrimination has instead reinforced discriminatory and violent laws, systems, and policies that drive racism. Even worse is that there are no anti-discrimination laws to affirm equality and sanction racism. In times of disaster and crisis, discrimination and exclusion are even more pronounced. Equality, freedom, and security are not respected but trampled upon.

We here today have long been standing in solidarity to end discrimination against migrants, combat hatred and discrimination, and fight for rights. Today, we are here again to envision a world that is equal, free, and safe. We demand the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination. We demand the State to immediately stop inciting hatred and discrimination. Stop the violence of crackdowns, deportations, and detentions, and ensure safe stay, survival, and fundamental rights. Respect the humanity of migrants and treat them without discrimination in all aspects of work and life. We all want to live in a society where we feel safe and joy, where everyone enjoys the rights they deserve without discrimination. On the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in 2023, we demand together:

Ensure equality, freedom, and security for migrants.

Here are some photos of the event: