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 facility employee from Pakistan, within the South Korean survival drama ‘Squid Game’, 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 youngsters 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 tons of of migrant staff from South Asia.


After it was first launched on September 17, Netflix claims Squid Game reached the number one spot in 90 international locations, together with India, in only one month and has turn into the most important present that the streaming service has ever produced. Performed by Indian nationwide Anupam Tripathi, an actor based mostly 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 stunning coming from South Korea.

“I wish to generate profits,” Ali tells a fellow participant on why he needs to play the sport. Depending on him are his spouse and new child youngster. 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 facility.


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

Someday in the past, one among Khan’s acquaintances from India injured his hand throughout a office accident and ended up dropping 4 fingers, very like 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 staff in South Korea.

Most migrant staff in South Korea dwell on web site, and are offered lodging inside transport containers which were partially modified and became shelters. Picture credit score: Virendra Yadav

This previous winter, Khan awoke one morning to listen to that his buddy working in an area manufacturing facility in Gyeonggi province had died due to the intense chilly. Most migrant staff within the nation dwell on web site, and are offered lodging inside transport containers which were partially modified and became shelters.

“Final yr, a girl from Vietnam died due to the chilly inside her container. The employer discovered her physique the following morning,” recalled Sanjay Yadav, who has been dwelling and dealing in South Korea for 20 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’s requests for statistics and remark on the time of publishing this report.

Most migrant staff in South Korea dwell on web site, and are offered lodging inside transport containers which were partially modified and became shelters. Picture credit score: Virendra Yadav

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

In a single scene in ‘Squid Sport’, viewers are offered a quick glimpse of what life is like for these migrant staff contained in the containers. However dwelling inside one among these areas yr 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 transport container the place he lives. Picture credit score: Screenshot

Among the many migrant staff within the nation, Verma mentioned unlawful staff from India are worse off. In 2004, South Korea applied its Employment Allow System to beat labour shortages by permitting employers to legally rent an satisfactory variety of international staff from a bunch of nations throughout Asia, together with Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Whereas residents from these international locations are legally permitted to work in South Korea for roughly 5 years and journey forwards and backwards between their dwelling international locations, 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 compelled 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 kids. 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 might permit him to ship a refund dwelling 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 staff work inside a greenhouse at a farm in Pocheon, South Korea on Feb. 8, 2021. (AP Picture/Ahn Younger-joon)

“Once I got here right here, I came upon that they have been giving educated and uneducated folks the identical type of bodily, backbreaking work. The migrant staff are compelled to do what is named 3D work—tough, 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 on some of these jobs, creating home labour shortages, the place firms have turned to international staff who’re prepared to work, regardless of decrease pay and poor work situations.

In keeping with a paper by Nigel Callinan, assistant professor at Hannam College, printed in 2020, 10% of the entire variety of migrant staff 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 staff at current within the nation.

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

Within the 10 years that Verma has lived right here, he has missed his kids rising up and his dad and mom died ready to see him in individual. “If I am going again, I gained’t be capable of return. Once I speak to my spouse and youngsters 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 facility 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 motive force acquired scared and was unable to cease the machine and my buddy’s second leg acquired caught. When he tried to cease the machine together with his hand, the machine swallowed his hand as effectively. 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 motive force has not paid damages and neither has any assist from the federal government are available in.” Their unlawful standing makes it tough for the South Korean federal and native authorities to supply a lot help to such migrant staff, who’re largely reliant on the help of social staff.

Cambodian staff communicate throughout a web based interview in a transport container that’s used as their dwelling put in at a farm in Pocheon, South Korea on Feb. 8, 2021. (AP Picture/Ahn Younger-joon)

Along with poor working and dwelling situations, migrant staff 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 facility house owners threaten the employees with deportation, they withhold pay, and interact them in compelled 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 staff who’re new arrivals face notably tough 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 individual is turned out onto the streets and has no place to go, no shelter, no cash for meals,” mentioned Verma.

his picture reveals garments and a mattress of migrant staff in a transport container, a makeshift dwelling for them at a farm in Pocheon, South Korea on Feb. 8, 2021. (AP Picture/Ahn Younger-joon)

The desperation to supply a greater life for his or her households compel them to ship 90% of their meagre salaries again dwelling. Their unlawful immigration standing additionally implies that employers exploit Indian staff by paying half of what’s the regulation and paid to staff from different international locations. “The fundamental wage involves round Rs. 1 lakh, which is so much for them. They ship every little thing to their households,” mentioned Yadav.

For years, there have been stories of staff 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 staff.

Human rights activists stage a rally calling for higher dwelling situations for migrant staff close to the presidential Blue Home in Seoul, South Korea on Feb. 9, 2021. (AP Picture/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 information of the incident unfold locally, Yadav and a few staff rushed to see what they might 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 dying provides Yadav nightmares that preserve him awake at evening and he hasn’t slept for one week because the incident. “His household left his accountability on me. We’ll immerse his ashes within the close by river,” mentioned Yadav.

“There are numerous who come to Korea and so they stay right here—their our bodies stay right here,” mentioned Yadav.

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