Xenophobic groups grow more vocal
By Na Jeong-ju
“Our citizens are being forced to compete with migrant workers for low-income jobs. What’s the government doing to protect our interests from the aliens?”
“Let’s keep our jobs from foreign workers and tell them to just go back to their own countries.”
Such messages are posted on the website of a Seoul-based anti-foreign civic group, which has more than 5,000 members. The group claims the government should rewrite laws to ban local firms from hiring migrant workers until the country achieves a $25,000 per capita income and disallow marriages between Korean women and those from poor nations.
The bombing and shooting rampage by an anti-Muslim extremist in Norway that killed 76 people has sparked fears of possible assaults on migrant workers here.
Government officials say Korea is relatively safe for foreigners to live in, but some analysts caution that xenophobic groups are becoming more vocal and organized as the number of immigrants increases significantly.
“Anders Behring Breivik, the Norway rampage culprit, said the attack was merciless, but necessary. It’s not just Norway’s case,” an anonymous member wrote on the group’s website. “In Korea as well, there are so many pseudo-human rights groups and politicians who are trying to protect immigrants and deceive people. We should act against them and keep our values.”
What’s gruesome is that many of the group’s members seem to be sharing Breivik’s paranoid and extremist views on foreigners. Breivik has criticized Norway’s openness and embrace of immigrants, saying his attacks were intended to start a revolution to inspire Norwegians to retake their country from Muslims.
The Seoul-based group is just one of the Internet-based organizations campaigning against immigrants. Some groups jointly launched a center to receive reports on foreign workers overstaying their visas and called for crackdowns on them.
They recently visited the office of Rep. Kim Sun-dong of the Democratic Labor Party to protest his submission of a bill aimed at giving more educational opportunities to the children of multicultural families and improving the welfare system for migrant workers.
“We are receiving more threatening calls from such groups than ever before,” said Kim Ki-don from the Korea Migrant Human Rights Center. “They regularly post anti-foreign messages on websites and spread news about crimes committed by foreigners. They are becoming organized.”
The number of petitions filed with the nation’s human rights agency against racial and religious discrimination has steadily increased in recent years, according to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) Tuesday.
It said 64 cases of complaints were lodged in 2010 regarding discrimination on the grounds of race, religion, nationality, ethnicity and skin color, compared with 32 cases in 2005.
Kim Ho-ki, a sociology professor of Yonsei University, said the government must focus on educating the younger generation about multicultural values.
“It’s important to raise public awareness of the human rights of immigrants and develop people-to-people exchange programs to help Koreans better understand different cultures,” Kim said.
Prof. Han Kyung-koo of Seoul National University said xenophobia could become a major social problem in Korea like other countries around the world, but Koreans are mostly favorable toward foreigners.
“What’s important is to develop more programs to help immigrants adapt themselves and contribute to the development of the Korean society,” Han said.