Thursday, August 11, 2011
"I was a stranger and you welcomed me" (Mat. 25:35) is cited by a priest writing in the Peace Weekly to preface his remarks on the foreign worker issue. He is the priest responsible for caring for foreign workers in his diocese. He has an International Mass for them each Sunday and works as their pastor.
His desire is that they will have a good recollection of Korea when they return to their countries. It is because Koreans are unwilling to do the jobs that are dirty, dangerous and difficult that we have the need for foreigner workers, a need greatly expanded when the country prepared itself for the '88 Olympics.
The priest recounts the story of a worker who wanted to change his place of work. He asked the owner of the factory for the opportunity to go to Mass on Sunday and sing in the choir. The owner got angry and told him that if it was that important to him, he should get another job. The priest helped him get a new job where he could attend Mass, and the worker is now happy with the situation.
He mentions another man whose contract expired and refused to return home. The priest and Sister tried to change his mind but failed. Upset and drinking too much, he had an accident while riding his motorcycle. It was then the priest heard that the money he had carefully saved and sent home to his wife had been squandered; nothing was left of his five years of work. The priest had nothing to say but did what he could to help him.
Many of the foreign workers experience depression, conflicting emotions and worry because of the often hostile working conditions. Many factory owners have no thought of the emotional needs of these workers but only see them as bodies for doing work. Those who work to improve conditions within this foreign community are many, and they are doing an important job. But the work will become even more difficult as the number of foreign workers coming to Korea continues to increase. With about one in four becoming illegal, the total number having overstayed their allotted time is now estimated to be about 27,000. This is a problem for the country and for those that work with the foreign community.
There is a need on the part of the underdeveloped countries to find work for their young people if not at home, then in other countries. Korea continues to need workers to fill the jobs Koreans don't want. Last year, more than 10 billion dollars was sent back to the home countries of the workers. And in the process, everyone benefits. Korea is especially conscious of the bad publicity that is being exported along with the workers on returning to their homelands. This awareness is sure to bring changes in the treatment of foreign workers.