‘We are unkind hosts to foreigners‘
By Kim Rahn
Are Koreans ready to embrace multiculturalism? A survey shows that there is a long way to go before the Confucian-steeped country becomes a truly multicultural society.
A government-sponsored survey showed that only a third of Koreans agreed to the coexistence of various races, religions and cultures.
The latest case in point illustrating that the country isn’t ready to embrace naturalized citizens and foreign residents were racial attacks by bloggers on Philippine-born Jasmine Lee. Lee who was married to a Korean man — now deceased — took Korea citizenship and became a proportional representation lawmaker-elect of the ruling Saenuri Party in the April 11 elections. Some bloggers posted racist comments, claiming interracial families were gaining at the expense of Koreans.
“In Europe, antipathy toward minority ethnic groups has become an issue, with riots occurring. In Korea, the number of foreigners is still small, but when it grows, racial problems will emerge here, as we already saw with the attack on Jasmine Lee,” professor Mo Kyung-hwan at Seoul National University said.
It seems the government’s efforts to have interracial families and foreign residents integrated into Korean society haven’t worked well as seen in the survey and the recent racist attacks on a Korean-Chinese murder suspect, and the naturalized lawmaker-elect from the Philippines.
According to the Korean Multiculturalism Inventory conducted by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family on 2,500 citizens between December and January, 36.2 percent of Koreans agreed to the coexistence of various cultures in the country.
The ratio was far lower than 73.8 percent, the average ratio of 18 European nations, based on the Eurobarometer Survey and the European Social Survey, the ministry said.
This was the first time for Korea to develop and conduct such a survey to measure the degree of multiculturalism.
Some 86 percent of Koreans also said having Korean ancestors was important for the nation’s identity, attaching greater importance to “racial homogeneity” than Japan’s 72.2 percent, the United States’ 55.2 percent and Sweden’s 30 percent.
However, the respondents weren’t so united on whether foreign residents had a negative influence on society. About one third of them said foreigners take their jobs away, increase the nation’s crime rate or make the state pay more for support to them. Such ideas were much stronger in European nations such as Germany, Britain and France.
“The survey was conducted in December and January, before the Wu Yuanchun murder case, and the election of Jasmine Lee. We guess if we conduct the survey now, more people may answer foreigners boost the crime rate,” a ministry official said.
Earlier this month, Wu abducted, raped and killed a 28-year-old Korean woman in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province. Since then, negative comments on Korean-Chinese residents have spread rapidly on the Internet.
The survey also showed, in general, people experiencing more education or events related to multiculturalism or those more frequently meeting foreigners were more open-minded. However, the openness rather fell among those having foreign residents as family members or those who “very often” meet and talk to foreigners.
“People having a very direct relationship with foreigners may have conflicting interests from the latter’s. For example, Korean laborers in industries which hire many migrant workers had more negative views on multiculturalism because they think foreigners may take their jobs away,” the ministry official said.
Mo said understanding of multiculturalism has grown superficially when it comes to matters of right and wrong. “But people turn negative when asked whether they are willing to pay more taxes to help interracial families better adapt to Korea.”
“In the case of people with foreign family members, too, they face difficulties while living with the members and have to help the latter in their daily lives. In the position of providers, they may develop a negative perspective on multiculturalism,” the professor said.
Along with the survey, the ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office announced measures to support interracial families, but most of them are focused on assisting the families’ adaptation to Korean society.
“Foreign residents make up about 2 percent of population. Government measures should focus more on the remaining 98 percent, Koreans. It is important for the majority to learn how to respect differences and embrace migrants as members of our society,” Mo said.