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Human rights commission to probe Seoul’s testing mandate for all foreign workers

People line up for COVID-19 tests in Guro-gu, Seoul, March 19. (Yonhap)
People line up for COVID-19 tests in Guro-gu, Seoul, March 19. (Yonhap)

The National Human Rights Commission of Korea on Friday launched an investigation into the Seoul city government’s decision to mandate coronavirus tests for all foreign workers, after some foreigners filed a petition against the administrative order.

“Foreigners have filed a petition with the NHRC, saying that they feel hatred and racism,” NHRC Chairperson Choi Young-ae said in a statement. “In response, the NHRC will quickly determine whether discrimination and human rights violations are committed.”

The NHRC indirectly criticized some local governments’ administrative orders, saying, “Policies that exclude or separate immigrants can cause negative perceptions and discrimination against immigrants, shake the foundation of social integration, solidarity and trust, and even lead to hate crimes based on race.”

It also said, “They did not target all close contacts or workers suspected of infection, but forced only foreign workers to undergo diagnostic tests.

“The government and local governments need to take special care to ensure that migrants are not ignored in the communication channels and that discriminatory concepts and attitudes are not produced in the process of implementing policies for migrants,” it added.

A day earlier, British Ambassador Simon Smith lodged a formal protest with the South Korean government.

“The British Embassy has made clear to the national government and to the Seoul and Gyeonggi administrations that we consider these measures are not fair, they are not proportionate, nor are they likely to be effective,” he said in a video on Twitter.

Local politicians and lawyers also expressed concerns about the city government’s order.

Jung Ho-jin, a spokesman for the progressive minor Justice Party, said Seoul City’s decision was excessive and discriminatory.

“They do not take into account the risk of infection, such as contact with confirmed people. Just to manage all foreign workers in Korea as a test target is to treat them as potential sources of infection,” he said. “This is a distinct act of discrimination.”

Lawyers for a Democratic Society released a statement saying, “Without considering the possibility of infection, conducting a full-scale examination of an unspecified number is scientifically groundless.”

This policy is not “the best effort for quarantine,” but “the policy caused by hatred and racism against migrant workers,” it said.

By Shin Ji-hye (shinjh@heraldcorp.com)
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