Bangladeshi worker’s dream ripped apart by ill health
By Lee Tae-hoon
Mosaruf Hossain, a native of Chittagong, Bangladesh, had a big dream when he first set foot in Korea on Nov. 3, 2009 with an E-9 Visa, a work permit for a job considered too dangerous, dirty and difficult for Koreans to undertake.
The 31-year-old thought it would be just a matter of time for him to earn enough money to make a glorious return home.
But all his dreams now lie shattered.
He is not only laden with heavy debt but he will also never be able to use his legs properly.
Hossain underwent hip replacement and bone grafting surgeries on both of his legs late last year because his body could no longer endure the hard labor.
The doctor told him that he will never be able to do any laboring job again, which Hossain believes is linked to the 15-hour work shifts he had to do which lasted for more than a year without a single day off.
He is now unfit for any of the jobs offered under the E-9 work scheme because he can barely walk without crutches. He will likely need another hip replacement operation that he cannot afford in 10 to 20 years even if he takes extra caution and care of his legs.
All he hopes for now is to return home but with his worn-out body, a bleak future is ahead.
Hossain is currently stuck in a shelter provided by the Seoul Migrant Workers Center, a non-governmental organization, which has been running a donation campaign to raise the money to purchase an airplane ticket for his trip back to Bangladesh.
In search of better life
After graduating from Bangladesh National University, Hossain ran a small book store. He earned about $300 a month but that wasn’t enough to support his family.
“I was the only breadwinner of the family. I encountered financial problems because my daughter grew up and my aging mother required medical treatment,” Hossain said, recalling what prompted him to come to Korea.
He thought about going to the United States to find a job but opted for Korea after consulting with his friends and receiving advice from the Bangladesh Overseas Employment and Services Limited, a state-run company responsible for exporting cheap labor from the South Asian country.
“They told me that I would find a more comfortable and less physically challenging job in the United States but would be able to make more money in Korea, which is known to have many labor intensive jobs,” Hossain said, adding that Seoul is a popular destination for Bangladeshi migrant workers. “My wife also encouraged me to go to Korea as she believed it a developed country and a very safe place to stay.”
Nearly 3,000 Bangladeshi migrant workers are currently working in Korea on E-9 Visas.
Upon his arrival in Korea, Hossain worked for a textile company in Uijeongbu, some 20 kilometers north of Seoul.
A half-hour lunch break was the only time granted to him for his body to have a chance to recover from the intensive labor.
“I had to lift and carry heavy boxes all day long without a rest,” he said.
“But I had no complaints since I was here to make money, not for my own comfort.”
Hossain lived in a container with two other Bangladesh workers even when the temperature dropped below minus 20 degrees Celsius.
“I had to put up with the cold the whole winter in the container from which the kitchen and the bathroom were at least 100 meters away,” he said.
After his first winter in Korea, Hossain worked for a company that makes furniture and sells it online.
He could earn as much as 2 million won a month, but had to work from 8:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. throughout the week.
“I worked non-stop,” he said. “I was responsible for boring wood boards. I had to repeatedly stand up and sit down three to four times in a minute, which I believed caused my illness.”
Hossain did not mind the job as he was able to send about 1.5 million won a month to his family.
On average, he spent only 400,000 won a month for his own expenses, which included 150,000 to 190,000 won for phone bills and 160,000 a month on food.
“I missed my family so much that I had to spend so much money on international phone calls,” he said.
Bitter twist of fate
After working in Korea for a year, he began to feel pain in his legs.
He went to see a doctor in February 2010 because he could no longer stand up without leaning against something.
“I was a healthy person. I had two medical checkups, one to apply for my employment in Korea and another upon my arrival in Seoul during three days of mandatory job training,” he said, noting that he developed the health problems due to hard labor.
“I wouldn’t have come to Korea if I knew that I was suffering from joint dislocation.”
With the help of Raphael Clinic, a Catholic organization dedicated to providing free medical services to migrant workers in Korea, he was able to have an operation on his left leg on Nov. 3, 2011, exactly two years after his arrival here, and on the right leg the following month.
Over the past several months, he has fought against his insurance company in hopes of receiving compensation for his life-long disability and the Korean labor ministry for a chance of landing a non-labor intensive job here.
However, it was all in vain. His insurance company has ruled out the possibility of interpreting his health problems as an occupational disease and the labor ministry also maintains that no preferential treatment or favors can be granted to him.
“I have fought so hard, but it has been of no avail,” he said, adding that his dream to open a grocery store in his hometown is now completely torn apart. “I don’t know what to do. All I know is that I don’t belong here.”
Anyone who wishes to make a donation to Mosaruf Hossain may call the Babo Nanum (Fool's Sharing) Foundation, a charity aimed at promoting the sharing spirit of the late Stephen Cardinal Kim Sou-hwan, on (02) 727-2503~8. You can also send money via the foundation’s bank account.
Account details: 1005-102-106434, Woori Bank