Friday, October 4, 2019

Migrants and Refugees in Korea

In early September of this year, the Uijeongbu Diocese of Korea which has been working with migrants and refugees established a Catholic refugee center. The diocese saw a need for a building for the refugees, a place for them to meet. It was welcomed and a great gift for the refugees. The Refugee Center was a space that supported the study, activities, and counseling of refugees and migrant families. There were 700 refugee applicants from Africa who escaped their homeland because of political and religious oppression. In the Eyes of the Believer column, a priest of Seoul explains to the readers of the Catholic Times the problems that arose.

The Uijeongbu Diocese established the refugee center, the first in the Korean Catholic Church which showed the diocesan interest and concern for refugees. In celebration of the completion of the Refugee Center, the bishop emphasized the love for the refugees in his talk at the dedication.

“We joined the 1992 Convention on Refugees and the Refugee Protocol and Korea enacted the first refugee law in Asia, but we have only 2% of the UN's 35% refugee recognition rate. Externally we appear to be in the ranks of protecting refugees, but in reality, we are doing very little. We have built this structure for the refugees let us fill it with our love."

In this way, the diocese is continuing the interest that began last year with the hope that each parish would take one of the refugee families and care for them.

However, shortly after the refugee center was completed it encountered a major obstacle in its operation.  After the ceremony, they tried to open the operation, but it was canceled and the sign of the refugee center on the outer wall of the building was removed. Some residents lately heard about the operation of the refugee center and protested to city hall to oppose the opening due to noise, security, and the deterioration of the local area. As the controversy grew, the diocese delayed the opening indefinitely. The Uijeongbu Diocese recently met with city officials and residents and said: " They fully understand the concerns and opposition of the residents. The refugee center will not begin operation until they have the agreement of the residents."

It is a shame indeed. It is okay for the Catholic Church to run a migrant pastoral center, but when you change the title to refugee center the discriminating attitude of local residents makes this impossible.

It cannot be denied that “politics of discrimination and exclusion” is working in our country.  Many are the incidents of discrimination, exploitation, and impersonal treatment of the migrant workers who have been in Korea for a long time! "Refugees", are a hot topic presently. They are our neighbors to be embraced like migrant workers because they are now living in Korea. In reality, however, Koreans dislike for refugees is well over the normal. A scholar expresses this situation very appropriately with the following words.

"You can send relief supplies to the African refugees who live far away and sing: You were born to be loved, but if you bring them to our country and let them live with us in our home, the story changes. If they are far away in Africa you can help because they don't threaten us, but the moment they enter the country they are not a target of hospitality, but of hostility.”

The 'other' always poses a problem. The other in me is difficult because it's not controllable. They are refugees inside me. In the Old Testament, beings who appear in the form of others were the gentiles, widows, orphans. They are like the present migrant workers, multicultural families, homeless people, refugees, etc. of this age and those who have been deprived of their rights because of social prejudice and mistreatment. But can we live without others and without neighbors? Jesus answers in the story of the good Samaritan "who is our neighbor?" He presented the Samaritan who heard the groans of the other and with to his side.

Like Jesus, we hope that "the principle of unconditional hospitality" will be applied to all others of this age, resulting in generosity and tolerance rather than disgust and hostility. The writer prays that soon the Uijeongbu Diocese will be able to open the refugee center and the local residents and refugees can coexist together in peace.

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