Vietnamese interpreter Nguyen Thi Ngoc has received the 2021 Hope Award for Migrant Workers for her contribution to the settlement and counseling of migrants in South Korea earlier this month, according to The Korea Times.
The Hope Center for Migrant Workers, a Seoul-based humanitarian non-government organization, gave the award to Ngoc, whose South Korean name is Bak Jeong Yeon, at the Busan Foreign Residents’ Center on October 21.
The center has annually presented the Hope Award for Migrant Workers to an activist of foreign nationality for devoting to migrant labor rights since 2020.
Ngoc, a Vietnamese marriage migrant in South Korea, began Vietnamese-South Korean interpretation for migrants in 2012 at Link, a translation center for foreign nationals.
She now handles 3,000 to 4,000 cases of counseling and interpretation a year concerning labor, health and settlement issues for migrants at the Busan Foreign Residents’ Center, while educating foreign workers on how to fight for their rights in the East Asian country.
“When I first came to South Korea 13 years ago, I didn't speak Korean at all,” Ngoc told The Korea Times over the phone.
“I was lucky enough to study South Korean for the first two years, but most migrant workers can’t.
“They are far away from their homes and families, as well as alone when in trouble or illness.
“So I want to stay by their side and help in any way that I can.”
In 2016, Ngoc helped to defend a group of Vietnamese fishermen who were accused of murder on a deep-sea fishing vessel and detained under investigation.
Through countless visits to a Busan prison, Ngoc provided a thorough and detailed interpretation to human rights lawyers in Seoul to successfully prove the Vietnamese fishermen’s innocence.
“I contacted the Vietnamese fishermen repeatedly, via phone calls, letters and prison visits.
“Sometimes, I would bring them books to read and encourage them not to give up.”
Ngoc also shared with the South Korea-based English-language daily newspaper about the other times when she helped her countrymen protect their rights.
“A family member of a client sent me a box of Vietnamese treats with a handwritten thank-you letter,” she said.
“Mrs. Bak Jeong Yeon has greatly contributed to publicizing the issue on migrant fishermen's labor rights and making legal improvements,” read a letter of recommendation by Kim Jong Chul, a human rights lawyer from the humanitarian legal counsel APIL obtained by The Korea Times.
“In several in-depth interviews and investigations of their poor working conditions, Mrs. Bak has given us decisive help.”
In her acceptance speech on October 21, Ngoc thanked her fellow migrants and activists.
“This award is for all migrant workers who refuse to tolerate mistreatment and discrimination and reach us for help,” the Vietnamese woman said.
“This award could make me look special and unique, but there are a lot of activists who are better than me are working hard to help migrants across the country,” she added.
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