Bill Renamed Pro-Multiculturalism Scheme
By Lee Tae-hoon
A lawmaker said he will continue his push for legislation that would protect foreigners in Korea against discrimination based on race.
Rep. Jun Byung-hun of the main opposition Democratic Party (DP) said that he has recently urged his party to adopt his revised anti-racism bill as an official party platform before he submits it to the National Assembly.
It has been almost half a year since he made public the draft bill, one of the first legal attempts in Korea to define racism and set punishments for racist acts.
"I have renamed the bill as the pro-multiculturalism bill as many Koreans perceive racism is too blunt of a word," Jun told The Korea Times Thursday. "The party will deliberate on whether to adopt it as part of its official platform in the near future."
Jun said he plans to submit the bill to the Assembly during the next parliamentary session, which opens in April, even if the DP does not back the much-disputed bill.
Criticism on the Bill
The proposed legislation triggered an avalanche of criticism when Jun posted the draft of the racial discrimination bill on his Web site on Sept. 6 last year to gather public opinion.
The Korea Times has analyzed 210 comments posted on the lawmaker's Web site with regard to his original proposal. The vast majority (94 percent) of the online commentators were adamantly against it.
Only five percent, 11 people, welcomed it. One person declined to give an answer.
Growing Crime Rate
Forty-four respondents, or 21 percent, said such legal measures will only aggravate a growing problem of controlling crimes committed by foreigners.
They pointed out that the number of crimes committed by non-Koreans has nearly tripled over the past five years, citing statistics released by the Ministry of Justice.
The number of crimes committed by foreign nationals soared from 12,821 in 2003 to 34,108 in 2008, according to the ministry.
As of 2008, the crime rate of foreigners were slightly lower at 3.9 percent, compared to 4.1 percent for Koreans.
More than 22,465 crimes by foreigners were reported in the first seven months of 2009.
The number of serious criminal offenses committed by foreigners has also increased from 2,596 in 2005 to 3,104 in 2006, 4,316 in 2007 and 5,982 in 2008.
Even men are afraid to walk around foreign population-concentrated areas, such as Wongok-dong or the Sihwa Industrial Complex in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province, a blogger, named "Please," said. "They always walk in groups of three to five, often provoking people into a fight. They usually carry a knife."
The second-biggest concern was reverse discrimination against Koreans. Thirty-seven bloggers, or 17.6 percent, said the bill would put Korean citizens at a disadvantage at work places and generally in society.
"Discrimination is something common even among Koreans. If Korea introduces legislation that specifically prohibits discriminating against foreigners, Korean citizens will become victims of the measures," a blogger named Ahn Hee-hwan said.
Many of them criticized Article 25 of the original bill. It stipulates that the alleged offender of racial discrimination must prove his or her innocence in court, rather than the purported victim proves that the offender is guilty.
"Let's say one foreigner has sued his company for his failure to be promoted. Under Article 25, the company will be responsible to verify that the promotion was not linked to racial discrimination," a blogger named "Dreaming of Balhae" said. "In the end, the foreign worker will win the case because the company will not be able to produce evidence that proves the decision was not racial discrimination."
Some even suggested the bill would make an increasing number of innocent Korean nationals falsely accused of racial discrimination.
In response to the mounting criticism, Jun deleted Article 25 in the revision bill.
Discrimination Is Rightful?
Some argued that a certain degree of racial discrimination is necessary and the government should make more efforts to provide more benefits exclusively to its own citizens.
Twenty-four, or 11.4 percent, pointed out that foreigners do not deserve equal treatment as they do not fulfill obligations mandated to Korean nationals.
Another 19 bloggers, or 9 percent, also claimed that discrimination is acceptable as it helps Koreans secure their citizens' rights.
"If the legislation is enacted, we will have to treat foreigners as equally as Koreans, even though they do not have to fulfill compulsory military service," a blogger named "How come?" said.
Another blogger also claimed that foreigners should not have equal rights as Koreans in education and workplaces.
"What is the point of having a government here if everyone is provided with all the rights that Koreans have," another blogger, called "I," said.
Under the original bill, job opportunities, wages, vocational training, promotions and a work contract period should not be discriminated based on racial difference.
The bill, however, deleted a clause on wage discrimination, which would be a major difference from the original plan.
Competition in Job Market
Many also feared that the bill would lead to an increasing number of foreigners coming to Korea to steal their jobs.
Sixteen, or 7.6 percent of them, replied that the scheme will worsen the job market for Koreans. Some even worried that wages will be lowered for labor-intensive jobs as migrant workers are willing to work at less than half of what locals receive.
"Korea should not open its labor market as many low-income earners here will end up losing their jobs," a blogger said.
Another blogger claimed that an influx of migrant workers has already resulted in lowering wages for those working at construction sites or having simple labor jobs and this is a quite serious problem.
A total of 13 bloggers said such anti-racial legislation will lead to a surge in the number of illegal migrants in Korea.
Of 1.15 million foreign nationals residing in Korea, 177,732 were undocumented in January this year, down from 198,559 a year ago, according to the Korea Immigration Service.
Demand for Homogeneous Society
Fifteen of the respondents answered that Korea should maintain a maximum number of foreigners because multicultural society is destined to be a failure.
"We must not throw away the greatest competitive edge that Korea has been bestowed by being a homogeneous nation," a blogger said.
"It will only result in destroying the nation's identity and worsening social conflicts," another blogger said.
Some went as far as saying that multiculturalism is a policy that has turned into a nightmare even in advanced European countries.
"Given that the majority of migrants come from third world countries, Korea will have more to lose than to gain from them by having an anti-racism law," a blogger wrote.
Quite a few number of bloggers also expressed concern on the impact of the growing Muslim community here. They expressed fears that Muslim may take root as a mainstream religion here.
Changes in the Bill
The revision bill, which The Korea Times exclusively obtained, appears to have undergone only minor changes from the original. It has removed a clause on wage discrimination based on race and the responsibility of the accused to prove innocence, while adding a clause that demands that the government set out an anti-racism education plan.