By Park Si-soo
The number of foreign nationals caught for crimes in Korea is on the rise with the increase rate in felonies particularly notable.
The National Police Agency (NPA) said Wednesday a total of 7,812 foreigners were arrested last year for involvement in the five major crimes - homicide, robbery, burglary, rape and physical assault. - an increase of nearly 18 percent from 6,615 in 2008.
Police said a total of 260 foreigners were caught for robbery last year, up 95 percent from 133 in 2008, making it the fastest growing serious crime. Burglary came next with a 45 percent increase, followed by homicide at 21 percent, rape at 11 percent and physical assault at 8 percent.
An estimated 1.2 million foreigners, including those overstaying their visas, are living in Korea, accounting for 2.4 percent of the country's population of 50 million.
A total of 543,812 major crimes - including violations by foreigners, were reported in Korea in 2008, according to recent statistics from Rep. Shim Jae-chul of the ruling Grand National Party - a dramatic increase from 454,550 cases in 2004.
This means the number of crimes has risen by about 5 percent annually during the four-year period.
The number of incarcerated foreigners has increased nearly four times in nine years.
There were some 1,000 foreign inmates as of August, the Ministry of Justice said - in 2001, there were only 251 foreign inmates, but the number jumped to 562 in 2007.
"The number of crimes committed by foreigners is gradually increasing," said a police officer. "But the steep increase is partially attributable to a nationwide crackdown on illegal aliens last year."
The increased number facing criminal charges excluding the five serious crimes is also notable.
According to the NPA and the Ministry of Justice, a total of 28,126 foreigners were caught for minor breaches of the law in 2008. The figure stood at some 10,000 in 2005, indicating the crime rate showed a nearly three-fold increase in just three years.
Traffic violations were the most frequent crime with 7,298 cases in 2008, followed by fraud with 3,390 and violation of foreign currency laws at 1,557.
By nationality, Chinese represented the majority of offenders at 20,435, followed by Mongolians (2,124), Americans (1,831), Vietnamese (1,653) and Japanese (402).
To cope with the increasing number of crimes, police and the prosecution recently established units specialized in foreign relations. Late last year, the Seoul Central Prosecutors' Office launched its first department dealing specifically with crimes by foreigners.
A foreigner-only prison has been recently opened to cope with the increasing number of inmates. Justice Minister Lee Kwi-nam gave a guided tour of the facility in Cheonan to showcase the attention being given to the human rights of foreign inmates.
The facility has translators for a variety of languages, eliminating a chance for problems caused by miscommunication, ministry officials said.