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In Netflix’s ‘Squid Game’, an insight into desperate lives of South Korea’s South Asian migrant workers

When 38-year-old Shakir Khan watched Ali Abdul, a manufacturing unit employee from Pakistan, within the South Korean survival drama ‘Squid Sport’, it was like watching his personal story play out in entrance of his eyes.

“I felt prefer it was my story. It is rather like what you see within the drama.” Seven years in the past, Khan left his spouse and kids in Lahore, hoping that employment in South Korea would permit him to offer his household a greater life. However since he arrived in Seoul, it has been all bleak, as it’s with lots of of migrant employees from South Asia.


After it was first launched on September 17, Netflix claims Squid Sport reached the primary spot in 90 nations, together with India, in only one month and has turn out to be the largest present that the streaming service has ever produced. Performed by Indian nationwide Anupam Tripathi, an actor primarily based in Seoul who has had minor roles in some Korean dramas, for a lot of viewers, Ali and his tragic story have come throughout as shocking coming from South Korea.

“I need to generate income,” Ali tells a fellow participant on why he desires to play the sport. Depending on him are his spouse and new child baby. An undocumented employee from Pakistan, with a harsh employer who withholds his wage for a number of months, Ali’s difficulties are compounded when he loses a couple of of his fingers whereas working on the manufacturing unit.


It isn’t as a lot Ali’s nationality as it’s his circumstances that resonate with Khan. Somewhat, it’s the lived experiences of the 1000’s of women and men from South Asia and Southeast Asia who work throughout farms and factories in South Korea. For migrant employees like Khan, sickness, damage and loss of life are part of on a regular basis life within the nation.

Someday in the past, one in every of Khan’s acquaintances from India injured his hand throughout a office accident and ended up dropping 4 fingers, very similar to Ali within the drama. “He didn’t even get any compensation. He got here to work right here however suffered a lot,” mentioned Khan. Nonetheless, Khan mentioned the person was one of many extra lucky migrant employees in South Korea.

Most migrant employees in South Korea stay on website, and are supplied lodging inside delivery containers which were partially modified and became shelters. Photograph credit score: Virendra Yadav

This previous winter, Khan awakened one morning to listen to that his buddy working in a neighborhood manufacturing unit in Gyeonggi province had died due to the intense chilly. Most migrant employees within the nation stay on website, and are supplied lodging inside delivery containers which were partially modified and became shelters.

“Final 12 months, a girl from Vietnam died due to the chilly inside her container. The employer discovered her physique the subsequent morning,” recalled Sanjay Yadav, who has been dwelling and dealing in South Korea for twenty years. For the Indian migrant employee group, all of whom are within the nation with out lawful paperwork, Yadav has been an indispensable useful resource and assist.

The Embassy of the Republic of Korea in India didn’t reply to indianexpress.com’s requests for statistics and remark on the time of publishing this report.

Most migrant employees in South Korea stay on website, and are supplied lodging inside delivery containers which were partially modified and became shelters. Photograph credit score: Virendra Yadav

Residing inside these areas which have few provisions for heating may be troublesome throughout South Korea’s four-month brutal winter. Though there are not any official figures, Yadav believes that near 70% of migrant employees in South Korea stay in containers like these, which were transformed into one room areas with a makeshift kitchenette and a toilet.

In a single scene in ‘Squid Sport’, viewers are supplied a quick glimpse of what life is like for these migrant employees contained in the containers. However dwelling inside one in every of these areas 12 months spherical is an extremely difficult expertise, one thing unfathomable for most individuals, even once they see pictures and movies, Yadav mentioned.

In a single scene of ‘Squid Sport’, Ali’s character is seen contained in the delivery container the place he lives. Photograph credit score: Screenshot

Among the many migrant employees within the nation, Verma mentioned unlawful employees from India are worse off. In 2004, South Korea carried out its Employment Allow System to beat labour shortages by permitting employers to legally rent an sufficient variety of overseas employees from a bunch of nations throughout Asia, together with Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Whereas residents from these nations are legally permitted to work in South Korea for roughly 5 years and journey forwards and backwards between their house nations, Seoul has no such agreements with New Delhi.

When Virendra Verma first arrived in South Korea 10 years in the past, the nation’s chilly climate was accompanied by snow that reached his knees on the farm the place he was despatched to work. “I used to be unemployed in India and there have been some brokers who had advised me that I might discover work in South Korea. They mentioned that after six months, I might get a piece allow. They advised me I might be capable of journey again to India sometimes and that the work was good right here,” Verma mentioned.

Desperation pressured Verma to take a mortgage of Rs 4,00,000 to pay the brokers and take a look at his luck in a rustic that he had by no means visited and had recognized little about. “I’ve to assist my household and educate my youngsters. Now I’m caught right here, so I’ve to do that.” Verma was duped into believing that he would be capable of work in a small organisation that may permit him to ship a reimbursement house and repay his loans. When he arrived, he was despatched to work on a farm, involving bodily labour that he had by no means executed earlier than.

Migrant employees work inside a greenhouse at a farm in Pocheon, South Korea on Feb. 8, 2021. (AP Photograph/Ahn Younger-joon)

“After I got here right here, I discovered that they have been giving educated and uneducated folks the identical sort of bodily, backbreaking work. The migrant employees are pressured to do what is known as 3D work—troublesome, harmful, soiled. Compulsion makes you do this type of work. I’ve come right here and now I’m caught.”

The time period 3-D comes from the Japanese expression ‘3Ks: kitanai, kiken, kitsui’; or ‘soiled’ ‘harmful’ and ‘demanding’. The notion of those jobs has discouraged younger South Koreans from taking over some of these jobs, creating home labour shortages, the place corporations have turned to overseas employees who’re keen to work, regardless of decrease pay and poor work circumstances.

Based on a paper by Nigel Callinan, assistant professor at Hannam College, printed in 2020, 10% of the full variety of migrant employees within the nation have been discovered to be overstaying their visas in 2017. However there’s little knowledge on the variety of Indian nationals who arrive in South Korea and find yourself working in farms and factories. Yadav believes that there are roughly 3,000 unlawful Indian migrant employees at current within the nation.

The prospect of a wage of something between US$1,300 and US$1,600 per 30 days, an quantity a lot under the authorized minimal wage that these labour contracts guarantee, is enticing sufficient to attract determined Indians to journey to South Korea with out applicable visas, with the information that they’re violating immigration legal guidelines, and should put up with troublesome work circumstances.

Within the 10 years that Verma has lived right here, he has missed his youngsters rising up and his mother and father died ready to see him in particular person. “If I’m going again, I gained’t be capable of return. After I discuss to my spouse and kids over a video name, they often cry.” However the considered unemployment that he believes awaits him in India stops him from leaving his job at a manufacturing unit that packages corn syrup.

Like Khan, Verma has seen a lot struggling over time in South Korea, that these tales make Ali’s in ‘Squid Sport’ appear comparatively much less tragic. “A buddy of mine was working in a livestock farm. In an accident, a tractor driver drove over my buddy’s leg. Then the driving force obtained scared and was unable to cease the machine and my buddy’s second leg obtained caught. When he tried to cease the machine along with his hand, the machine swallowed his hand as properly. He misplaced each legs and one arm.”

“He was within the hospital for 5 months. There was no progress within the processing of his case, there was no insurance coverage payout, the driving force has not paid damages and neither has any assist from the federal government are available in.” Their unlawful standing makes it troublesome for the South Korean federal and native authorities to supply a lot help to such migrant employees, who’re largely reliant on the help of social employees.

Cambodian employees converse throughout an internet interview in a delivery container that’s used as their house put in at a farm in Pocheon, South Korea on Feb. 8, 2021. (AP Photograph/Ahn Younger-joon)

Along with poor working and dwelling circumstances, migrant employees endure from bodily and psychological well being points. For 5 to 6 days per week, many are compelled to work for 10 to fifteen hours a day, with little relaxation.

“Within the case of Indians, many manufacturing unit homeowners threaten the employees with deportation, they withhold pay, and interact them in pressured labour as a result of they’re unlawful,” Yadav defined. Even amongst authorized migrants, many don’t possess legitimate paperwork once they go away abusive employers, leading to immigration-related issues.

Unable to talk Korean, migrant employees who’re new arrivals face significantly troublesome conditions, left on the mercy of employers. “Some employers will promise three months wage collectively. Then three months later, they refuse to pay and throw the employee out. So the particular person is turned out onto the streets and has no place to go, no shelter, no cash for meals,” mentioned Verma.

his photograph reveals garments and a mattress of migrant employees in a delivery container, a makeshift house for them at a farm in Pocheon, South Korea on Feb. 8, 2021. (AP Photograph/Ahn Younger-joon)

The desperation to offer a greater life for his or her households compel them to ship 90% of their meagre salaries again house. Their unlawful immigration standing additionally implies that employers exploit Indian employees by paying half of what’s the regulation and paid to employees from different nations. “The fundamental wage involves round Rs. 1 lakh, which is quite a bit for them. They ship all the pieces to their households,” mentioned Yadav.

For years, there have been experiences of employees being subjected to bodily violence, exploitation and lengthy hours of bodily labour with no breaks, however there was little change within the on a regular basis lives of migrant employees.

Human rights activists stage a rally calling for higher dwelling circumstances for migrant employees close to the presidential Blue Home in Seoul, South Korea on Feb. 9, 2021. (AP Photograph/Ahn Younger-joon)

Ten days in the past, a person who had arrived solely three years in the past in South Korea from Kolkata, started having chest pains whereas sleeping alone in his container. By morning, he had died. When news of the incident unfold locally, Yadav and a few employees rushed to see what they may do. “The hospital requested for Rs 6 lakh for medical prices earlier than releasing the physique. If there’s a tragedy, even the physique can’t be despatched again to India as a result of it prices Rs. 4-5 lakh. So all of us contributed some cash to conduct his funeral right here. His household couldn’t even see him,” Verma mentioned.

The person’s loss of life offers Yadav nightmares that preserve him awake at night time and he hasn’t slept for one week for the reason that incident. “His household left his duty on me. We are going to immerse his ashes within the close by river,” mentioned Yadav.

“There are lots of who come to Korea they usually stay right here—their our bodies stay right here,” mentioned Yadav.

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