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May Hwacho review: Towards a successful multicultural society
 Human Asia (humanasia@humanasia.org)     2011년 11월 07일    2,398  
[Review] Towards a successful multicultural society

Hyungyo Yo, Student of Suwon Academy of World Languages

If I were to ask a Korean whether s/he prefers to sit next to a white person or a Southeastern Asian in the bus, s/he would probably say that s/he would rather sit next to the white person. This is not to degrade anyone of Southeast Asian origin or to denounce the hypothetical respondent for her/his answer. This is to demonstrate an apparent fact that most Koreans have a prejudice against migrants from Southeast Asia. Everyone knows that it is wrong, but Koreans just don't want to admit it, turning a blind eye to it instead. I was also one of those people who do not want to think about this dark side of our society, until today's lecture. Today's lecture about migrants, multiculturalism and policy issues, held at Korea University, was given by Aung Tin Htun, the director of Migrant Film Festivals.

According to his lecture, there are currently about 1,250,000 immigrants living in Korea. Some 52% of them are migrant laborer, 15% marriage migrants, and 10% children from multicultural families. Despite the fact that Korea is now home to such a large number of immigrants, it
still lacks a proper appreciation and attitude towards them, which adds to the burdens of the immigrants living in Korea.  
To begin with, most of the migrants in Korea are guaranteed neither minimum wages nor industrial safety insurances, working at least 10 hours a day. Finding it hard to communicate in Korean, many end up becoming illegal aliens regardless of their intentions, having failed to settle the visa issue with the employer within a set period of time. Once they become illegal immigrants, they are not granted proper medical treatment even if they have accidents while working.  
It is not only adults who are suffering in Korea. Migrant workers' children are having hard time, too. If their parents get arrested for their illegal stay, there will be no one who will be looking after the children. Also, the children are frequently rejected from schools in Korea. Even when they have Korean citizenship, they are still rejected by classmates and mostly become victims of bullying.  
As the lecture went on, the hardships of immigrants weighed heavily on my mind. Asked about my dream, I used to proudly answer that I would work at the UN and make policies for those who are neglected in the society and work for those suffering from hunger and injury. Nonetheless, during this lecture, I asked myself, "Do I really deserve such a dream when I don't even care about these people living next door?" I realized it doesn't make any sense to think about hungry kids in Africa when I don't even bother to do something about the children from migrant families living in my apartment. Immigrants from Southeast Asia, for me, were no more than just people who came to Korea to earn money and go back. Their difficulties were not my business. I had forgotten the same difficulties I had undergone living in the U.S. as an immigrant 6 years ago. I had forgotten myself having wanted to blend into the class as an equal member. 
Migrant workers are not that different from us. 1,250,000 is not a small number that we can just ignore. More and more migrants are coming to Korea, and we cannot leave them out when talking about Korea's future. Most importantly, they have human rights just as we do. This should not be forgotten, especially young people who will be leading our society tomorrow. In that sense, I agree on the need for an education program to improve young people's understanding of immigrants. Government policies on migrants are urgent, too.

According to the lecturer, right now, immigrants are alone in their struggle to gain their rights in Korea. For one, they have opened MMTV (Migrant Worker Television) in which they make their own broadcasting to educate immigrants of their due rights in Korea and to unite. 
Then what kind of help does Korean government offer? Of course, there are plenty of events arranged where we can get together with multicultural families to share each other's culture and make friends with. However, that's not enough; there are still many neglected immigrants seeking our help and they are left out in the cold. Many migrant women are still suffering from domestic violence, and many children from multicultural families are being bullied around.

To get this straightened out, the government needs to establish facilities assisting women and children. I cannot agree more on setting up consultation and education services for migrant women, especially those in remote rural areas.

Also, I think Korea needs to devise programs similar to the ESL (English as a Second Language) programs implemented in U.S. schools, which help immigrant students to adapt well to the new environment. With a growing number of students coming from various countries to live, it is right time for Korea to develop supportive programs for them.
When these efforts are put together, Korea will be able to take a step towards a successful multicultural society. I hadn't thought much about this issue before I attended today's lecture; if I hadn't had a chance to know about immigrants' rights, my perspective towards them would not have changed. I was ashamed to realize that all we have done to them was to hold a prejudice against them when they have been struggling so hard to obtain their own rights. Today's lecture deeply influenced my perspective towards them. From now on, whenever I hear about immigrants suffering, I will offer them what little help I can, and if I
get a chance to tell about their rights, I will be pleased to speak out loud about
their invaluable rights. 

written by: Hyungyo Yo, Student of Suwon Academy of World Languages
editted by:

  • Korean version: Sangrae Jo_Human Asia Intern;
  • English version: Yanghee Kim (Graduate School of Interpretation & Translation Hankuk University of Foreign Studies