The children's emergency room of the Seoul National University Hospital.
In this room where just the word "emergency" triggers a case of nerves lies a newborn, brought into the world by Filipino migrant worker Velma (aged 28). Covered by a blanket in a little basket, the infant is so small that the basket looks empty. Under normal circumstances, the infant should still have been an eight-month-old fetus in its mother's womb, but it is lying in the hospital, 1.76kg and 42cm in size. The tiny hand peeking out of the covers is much too thin. Lying like a feather in the nurse's arms, its body looks the size of an adult's arm. The baby's nurse Cho Eun Joo, who explained that all her tiny patient did was sleep because of the drugs it was given yesterday, reports proudly, "The baby's health has improved a great deal. At birth on November 18 last year, it weighed only 900g and had to spend 50 days in the incubator. It has only just been weaned off the artificial respiratory machine. At first, it was uncertain whether the baby would even survive." The nurse gives the baby a pleased smile, as if proud of the baby for having survived and regained its health.
If the nurse is this proud of the baby, it is easy to imagine how its parents must be feeling. Velma and her husband are both migrant workers from the Philippines. Her husband came to Korea in 1999 in pursuit of the 'Korean Dream,' followed by Velma in 2001. But both of them are still illegal migrant workers.
With no access to education or medical services, and their human rights disregarded on top of that, the couple nevertheless worked hard at an embroidery factory, waiting patiently for the day when they earned enough money settle down back in their homeland. Then along came God's gift to them. But even that pleasure was short-lived; Velma had to undergo an operation in her sixth month due to high blood pressure induced by pregnancy. Two months after the operation, both mother and baby are recovering from the ordeal, but now the couple has to face the mountain of hospital bills awaiting them.
As both Velma and her husband are migrant workers, they have no medical benefits whatsoever. Even the children of such migrant workers are classified as illegal immigrants and therefore cannot enjoy any medical benefits. In Velma's case, she can receive a discount on her baby's hospital bills thanks to the support of various organizations including Raphael Clinic, the Migrant Workers' Medical Mutual Fund, Hamchun Sponsor Society, and the Philippines Community. But she still needs to pay the hospital some 20 million Won. It goes without saying that other children of migrant workers, whose existence is not even counted in official statistics, do not have any health rights. Kwon Hyun Ju, executive secretary at Raphael Clinic, called on the government to provide active support for these children, pointing out, "I saw four babies in need of intensive care like Velma's just last year. The Korean women who went to Germany in the 60s and 70s to work as nurses were at least provided medical insurance and social security, and it would be a wretched state of affairs if these innocent children aren't even allowed medical benefits."
Says Secretary-General Kim Mi Seon of the Migrant Workers' Medical Mutual Fund, "Although the Fund is widely known, only about 12 thousand of the 280 thousand migrant workers in Korea are receiving medical benefits as members of the Fund. It is difficult to even do a proper survey on the health of the migrant workers' children." The Fund is planning to focus especially on the health of migrant workers' children this year, providing them with medical checkups and so on. The plan is a reflection of the urgent need to protect the children's rights to health.
※ Velma is very short on funds to pay for her baby's hospital bills. She is in need of warmth and generosity. We would be grateful for any donations to the following bank accounts. Please state "Velma" along with your name when making your donation. Kookmin Bank 031-21-0674-799, or Woori Bank 058-146810-02-201, both accounts are in the name of Kim Jeon.