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Korean Dream’s Bright and Dark Side

Posted October. 18, 2004 23:16,   


Status of Settlement-

Currently, Korea has over 400,000 foreign workers from more than 10 countries including Vietnam, Thailand, and the Philippines. They are recipients of the work permit system and foreign industrial trainee system. Over the past 10 years, they have successfully formed an economic and cultural foundation of their own in local communities. In Seoul, ethnic Koreans from China have mostly settled in Daerim-dong, Yeongdeungpo-gu, while Nigerians from Africa have accounted for most of the street stalls in Itaewon, Yongsan-gu. Also, 70 percent of the total residents in Wongok-dong, Ansan of Gyeonggi Province are Chinese nationals. Nepalese are gathered in the area between Dongdaemun and Jongmyo, and many Iranian moneychangers are in Changsin-dong, Dongdaemun-gu. Furthermore, in Sindang-dong, Jung-gu and Sungin-dong, Jongno-gu, Pakistanis living in single rooms have formed a residential area.

Worrying Side Effects-

Most foreign workers are working hard in order to make their dreams come true despite unfavorable conditions. However, it is true that some of them are having a hard time overcoming cultural conflicts. In one instance last February, a group of Chinese in Wongok-dong, who had been celebrating the Lunar New Year—the most significant festival for ethnic Chinese around the world—in a big way by exploding a number of firecrackers, got into a fight with other foreign workers, who could not understand the culture, and police officers were called in to stop the fight. In Itaewon, where people from all around the world are living together, Indians who use their hands when they eat are offended by curses from foreigners with no understanding of Indian culture.

What is perhaps a bigger problem is crimes committed by these people. Recent reports show their tendency of forming criminal organizations through growing powers and expanding base areas. A group called the “H Association,” which consists of workers from a particular country, is known to run a brokerage business. The self-claimed representative of their mother nation is reported to have arranged jobs for those who pay for them. They also use violence to hinder other foreigner’s businesses from entering their areas. Indeed, there are increasing reports in Namyangju, Gyeonggi Province complaining of the lack of security caused by frequent fights at night among foreigners. The National Police Agency estimates that the number of foreign criminals caught has steadily increased by 20 percent every year. The figure was 3,438 in 2000, 4,328 in 2001, 5,221 in 2002, and 6,144 in 2003. As of late July, the figure was 5,143.

No Misunderstandings or Prejudice

Experts agree on the necessity of appropriate supervision and accurate analysis regarding the increasing number of foreign workers, but warn against unnecessary prejudices. They call for sensible measures that will help foreign workers live a normal life.

“A poorly-made immigration control system is responsible for the increasing number of illegal aliens—8,000 every month. Under such circumstances, growing feuds among foreigners and increasing numbers of crimes are not new phenomena in other countries,” said Professor Park Hwa-seok of Immigration Studies at Myeongji University. “The mass influx of foreign workers is an inevitable result of globalization and manpower supply and demand of domestic industries. Balanced administrative systems that can protect human rights of foreign workers and national interests as well are highly required along with a sufficient workforce capable of handling them,” added the professor.

“The recent report that a group of illegal foreign workers had planned a terror attack out of anti-Korea sentiment is not quite true. In order to eliminate the distance between them and us, respecting their role in our industry and understanding cultural differences must come first,” said a voluntary worker at a municipal center for foreign workers in Ansan.

Se-Jin Jung mint4a@donga.com