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Korea wants to learn from Schiphol fire

28 March 2007 - On 11 February, a fire in a South Korean detention centre for immigrants killed ten immigrants and wounded seventeen. At the invitation of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), Amsterdammer Jan Paul Smit will tomorrow travel to Seoul to talk about how the Schiphol fire was handled.

Smit is the coordinator of a group of volunteers visiting detainees in immigrant detention centres in Amsterdam and was closely involved with the consequences of the Schiphol fire, which killed eleven immigrants. Through Picum and LOS, organisations that campaign for the rights of the undocumented, he received an invitation from the KCTU.

According to Smit, there is not much Koreans can learn from the Amsterdam experience. Especially the treatment of victims and the next of kin left a lot to be desired.

However, he is very satisfied with how Pieter van Vollenhoven’s Safety Investigation Council investigated the disaster. “They were present from the beginning; day and night they secured evidence. They wrote a very good report with very clear conclusions”.

According to the KCTU, immigrants are treated badly in Korean detention centres, and their safety is being compromised. Also, the government would be withholding information on the fire that took place at a detention centre in Yeosu.

The KCTU has organised a demonstration as well as a petition on the internet. Smit: “It is not just because of this fire that they are concerned about the fate of immigrants, but in general as well”.

“They even have a specific union of immigrants, and they try to organise groups of undocumented people in the factories. Unity makes you stronger. So that is something I find fantastic”.

In this, the Netherlands can learn from the Korean example, Smit finds: “I would be very pleased if the Netherlands Trade Union Confederation would say, listen, these undocumented people, they are almost all workers, and you should fight for those people, that is part of what a union is about”.

Politicians as well might be a bit more concerned about the fate of undocumented immigrants: “Sometimes something is said about the issue, but never too much, or else everybody will vote Wilders. Yes, that is bothering me”.

KCTU Petition


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