[Campus Commentary]To promote Korea, treat migrants rightI was recently in Batan, northern Philippines, working as a volunteer for three weeks along with 25 university students from the Seoul and Gyeonggi areas, and two adults as team leaders. We taught young students some Korean language, taekwondo, art, science and computers, and helped repair old school facilities. The volunteer activity was part of a program under the slogan, “Let the world know about dynamic Korea.”
I taught science to elementary school students. During our last lesson, one student said to me that he was fond of Koreans, who came every year for the Batan people. When he grows up, he said, he hopes to come to Korea to work. I told him that I, too, wished he would come to Korea soon. Despite my smile, however, I couldn’t help feeling a bit guilty.
There are a lot of foreign workers including Filipinos, Indonesians, Indians and Chinese, working in Korea these days. They have come to Korea with a “Korean Dream.” Some accomplish their goal and go back to their homeland with satisfaction. However, occasionally, some suffer from industrial accidents, violence and delayed pay. In the news we hear reports that Korean co-workers threaten them because some are illegal immigrants, and some female foreign workers complain of sexual harassment.
There are also safety flaws in government-run facilities, as seen in the fire at the detention facility of Yeosu Immigration Office, which took 10 lives and injured 17 foreign workers. Supervisors at the facility treated them inhumanely, like criminals, according to a foreign worker in an interview. Of course they were confined there because they were illegally staying in the country, but they still have a right to protection in a safe environment. If the Korean government had been a bit more considerate, such a disaster would not have occurred. What happened to the spirit and the love we are taught to give when we go abroad to serve as volunteers? When I was in the Philippines, the people there were very kind and always tried to make me comfortable.
When I think about the migrant workers who died in Korea, I am ashamed, remembering the Filipino kid who was friendly to me and trusted me. Whether or not they were working here illegally, it is important to understand and respect them equally.
There is a saying, “an old cow believes that she never was a calf,” which reminds us that Korea was an underdeveloped country only a few decades ago. Poor workplace environments have to be improved and human rights protection for foreign workers must be fortified. Above all, it is necessary to change our views on foreign workers. Koreans cry out against racial discrimination in other countries, but Korea does the same thing to foreigners.
The Government Information Agency used 5.6 billion won ($5.9 million) in the past three years to promote the slogan “Dynamic Korea” as a Korean national brand. What’s the use of promoting its slogan if foreigners know Korea more as a dangerous and biased country? Instead of using so much money on the promotion, why not treat foreigners like you would your own family? That will better promote a good image for the country.
*The writer is a reporter at The Sejong Times, the English-language news magazine of Sejong University.
by Cho Eun-ju