Xenophobic groups become more strident as immigrants increase
By Na Jeong-ju
Korea may be 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 rises.
According to Social Metrics, an opinion survey firm, the case of a Korean woman brutally murdered by a Korean-Chinese man, Wu Yuanchun, in Suwon in April stirred anti-foreign sentiment among some Koreans. Since the murder was reported, the number of tweets and blog messages denouncing foreign workers, especially Korean-Chinese, has rapidly increased.
“Innocent Korean people are being targeted by illegally-staying migrant workers. I don’t understand why the government doesn’t act to stop their crimes.”
“South Korea has become a paradise for foreigners from poor countries. Our citizens are being forced to compete with migrant workers for low-income jobs.”
Such messages are posted on the website of a xenophobic group, claiming over 6,000 members. The group believes that the National Assembly should revise laws to ban local firms from hiring migrant workers and disallow marriages between Korean women and men from poor nations.
The group is just one of a dozen Internet-based organizations campaigning against immigrants. Some groups jointly launched a center to receive reports on foreign workers overstaying their visas and called for a “merciless crackdown” on them.
They recently visited the offices of lawmakers to protest their submission of a bill aimed at giving more educational opportunities to the children of multiracial families and improving the welfare system for migrant workers.
“The government has increased spending to strengthen welfare programs for foreigners, while cutting the budget for low-income Korean families,” said Cho Dong-hwan, who heads one of such anti-foreign groups.
“Koreans working in the fields compete with immigrant workers, and now receive less pay just because of them. The government knows well about this situation, but it has taken no action to address it.”
Cho criticized Korea’s openness and welcoming embrace of immigrants, saying this will destabilize the country, eventually.
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.
“Last year, more than a hundred cases of complaints were lodged in 2010 regarding discrimination on the grounds of race, religion, nationality, ethnicity and skin color, compared to 32 cases in 2005,” a commission spokesman said.
The Korea Migrant Human Rights Center said it’s receiving more threatening calls from xenophobic groups than ever before. They regularly post anti-foreign messages on its website and spread news about crimes committed by foreigners.
Han Kyung-koo, a professor of Seoul National University, said xenophobia could become a major social problem in Korea like other countries, if it is not properly addressed.
“What’s important is to develop more programs to help immigrants adapt so they can contribute to the development of Korean society,” Han said.
Prof. Lee Myung-jin of Korea University said the government must focus on educating the younger generation about multicultural values.
“It’s time to raise public awareness of the human rights of immigrants and develop people-to-people exchange programs to help Koreans better understand different cultures,” Lee said.