Anti-racism law in the making
By Lee Hyo-sik
The government is set to push the incoming 19th National Assembly to pass a special law banning racial discrimination in line with the growing number of migrant workers and immigrant wives.
The Ministry of Strategy and Finance said Monday that it will soon have lawmakers look at an anti-racism act for migrant workers, immigrant wives and North Korean defectors. It said it will hold policy consultation meetings with the Ministry of Justice and designate the matter as one of the country’s strategic agenda issues.
``Korea used to be a racially-homogeneous nation. But things have changed drastically over the years with a huge influx of migrant workers brought into the country for jobs that Koreans don’t want to do,’’ a ministry official said. ``Now, a larger number of foreign women mostly from China and Southeast Asian nations reside here after marrying Korean men. Korea has now become a multiracial society.’’
Currently, nearly 1.4 million foreigners reside here. Of them, 210,000 foreign women like Jasmin Lee have arrived after marrying Koreans. The ministry projects the number of non-ethnic Korean residents will increase to 3 million by 2030.
``With an influx of foreign laborers, we should take the necessary steps to minimize possible social conflict between Koreans and non-Koreans, as well as boost national competiveness. What we need to do first is to legislate an anti-racial discrimination law,’’ the official said.
To become a leading Asian economy, Koreans should embrace foreigners as neighbors and friends, he said. ``The envisioned law will help boost our international competitiveness and upgrade our image abroad.’’
Not only the United States, but also Germany, Britain and many other European countries with huge immigrant populations have laws banning racial discrimination.
In 2006, Germany enacted a law prohibiting employers from discriminating against jobseekers based on race, religion or physical handicap. Britain also has a similar law to reduce potential social conflict and prevent unnecessary legal disputes.
Jasmine Lee, a naturalized Korean citizen from the Philippines, was chosen as a proportional representation lawmaker on the ruling Saenuri Party ticket in the April 11 National Assembly elections. She became the first non-ethnic Korean to become a representative in the country’s history.
But she instantly became the subject of online attacks. Hundreds of people posted messages on the Internet and social network service (SNS) sties, critical of Lee and other non-Korean residents.
But they went unpunished for their offensive remarks because Korea has no law penalizing those making racist statements or engaging in activities instigating racial discrimination.
Last October, an immigrant support center launched a campaign calling for the establishment of a special law banning racial discrimination after an ethnic Uzbek woman, who became a naturalized Korean in 2009, was denied entry to a sauna by an employee because she looked non-Korean.
The Gyeongnam Migrant Community Service Center in Changwon, South Gyeongsang Province, has been collecting signatures across the country from migrant wives and workers, as well as from their family members and friends who support the legislation of a law prohibiting racial discrimination.