[FOUNTAIN]Refugees and Emigrants

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[FOUNTAIN]Refugees and Emigrants

The word "refugee" means a person who leaves his home and country because of war, political, religious or racial oppression.

Since human history is filled with conflicts and struggles, refugees have existed since ancient times. The people who have had the longest history as refugees are the Jews. The Jewish history of living as refugees extends to the time when the Jews escaped ancient Egypt, led by Moses, and lasted another 2,000 years after the Romans drove out the Jews from Jerusalem in A.D. 135. This is called the "diaspora," which means the aggregate of Jews or Jewish communities scattered in exile outside Palestine or into present-day Israel. When the Jews in exile ended their life as refugees and moved back to Israel, the Palestinians who have lived in Israel for 1,400 years became refugees.

There are more refugees, of course, besides Jews and Palestinians. An enormous number of refugees is wandering around the world after leaving their homes due to civil wars in places like Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan and Rwanda. The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that there are 22 million refugees in the world.

The most dramatic story of refugees in the latter half of 20th century has to do with the "boat people," who left Vietnam after that country fell into communist hands in 1975. Of the tens of thousands of refugees who attempted to flee Vietnam, a large number died after entering a vast, cruel ocean in tiny boats.

But it is not the time to talk only about others. Korea's modern history, marked by foreign invasions and exploitations, is also a history of evacuating and wandering refugees looking for shelter. At the end of the Choson Dynasty and during the Japanese occupation, our ancestors moved to Manchuria practically as refugees, and people who left their homes during the Korean War and are now over 60 experienced life as refugees. That sad history is still in progress. Those people are, of course, the North Koreans who are escaping the North in search of freedom and food.

What about the "warm southern country," the place North Korean refugees dream of? There are no more political refugees, but an increasing number of people leave because life has become more difficult due to economic reasons. Most of all, highly educated young people are emigrating in search of jobs. The reasons for emigration are lack of a future, a better education for their children and a better life. Shame fills us, for there is no difference between the feelings of these emigrants and that of refugees.



The writer is Berlin correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Yoo Jae-sik

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