Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Foreign Workers In Korea

The young Korean priest tells us that he first came to appreciate the difficulties of a foreigner when he was in Italy for studies. He did his language study in Perugia where there were no Korean restaurants. This was his first experience  having difficulty in eating non-Korean meals.

He was told that a healthy diet was salad, spaghetti and steak. This was now his principle meal. He was used to having haejangguk (a soup containing coagulated cow's blood, beef and vegetables) or  bean-sprout soup  in the morning but now he was having coffee with bread and cheese. He disliked greasy food and after each afternoon meal he would head for the toilet.  Within one month he had lost over 10 kilo.

The grandmother working in the kitchen worried a great deal about his health. Whether this was the reason or not for his weight loss, little by little he got used to Italian food and regained his weight and had no further difficulty with the food.  It was then that he looked back on his own life and remembered living with the foreign missioner in Korea, and reproaching him for his eating habits. Now he could appreciate the importance of food in the life of a foreigner because of his own experience in Italy. 

When he had to go to the police station in Italy, he could sympathize with the foreigners in Korea who had to do the same.  Not having the necessary papers, he had to make a number of trips back to the police station, and because of his poor knowledge of the language, he was made to stand stand before the counter while the clerks chattered on the telephone. Though angry, he passed it off with a smile, fearing he would upset the clerk and make it harder for him to get the paper work done. It was another incident that helped him appreciate the foreigner's plight, along with the difficulties he had getting his ID card and the transfer of his auto license.

As of February of this year, there were 1,236,385 foreigners in Korea. In 2001 there were 570,000; if adding the illegal immigrants to this number, the total number of foreigners in Korea would be about a million and half, more than 3 percent of the total population. The greatest number are from China, most of whom would be ethnic Koreans (410,000) who had lived in China. Next would be Americans, Vietnamese and Philippines, in that order. Foreign workers would number about 600,000; foreigners who have married Koreans, 120,000; resident foreigner's children, 110,000; those affiliated with foreign businesses, 100,000; and foreign students, 80,000.

It is evident, the professor says, that Korea is no longer a single race nation. Not infrequently, we see foreigners in our villages and our workplaces, and often there is a feeling of animosity against them which is reported in  the mass media, and he finds this painful to have to acknowledge. They are coming to Korea like our fathers went to other countries to help their families, and these foreign workers in Korea are coming from poorer countries to help their families. We forget how we were years ago, he says, and now discriminate and reject them.

It's very clear what the Church teaches about the treatment of foreigners. Especially when we remember that they are coming here to do work our Koreans do not want to do: work that is dirty, dangerous and difficult. The following is taken from the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church:

Institutions in host countries must keep careful watch to prevent the spread of the temptation to exploit foreign laborers, denying them the same rights enjoyed by nationals, rights that are to be guaranteed to all without discrimination. Regulating immigration according to criteria of equity and balance  is one of the indispensable conditions for ensuring that immigrants are integrated into society with the guarantees required by recognition of their human dignity. Immigrants are to be received as persons and helped, together with their families, to become a part of societal life. In this context, the right of reuniting families should be respected and promoted. At the same time, conditions that foster increased work opportunities in people's place of origin are to be promoted as much as possible.(298)

The professor ends his article  by saying that his stay in a foreign country helped him to appreciate the difficulties experienced by foreigners now living in Korea. We should always be on the side of the alienated and the oppressed, and that includes, he reminds us, the foreign workers in Korea. 

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