Koreans can be targets, too

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Koreans can be targets, too

The Sunni fundamentalist group that has proclaimed itself as the Islamic State, or ISIS, is laying bare its extreme barbarity. The militant Islamist group released a video showing Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh, who was captured by the radical group during a mission, being burned alive. The video follows the cruel beheadings of two Japanese nationals - journalist Kenji Goto and Haruna Yukawa - over the past two weeks. Given the extremist group’s track record, even Koreans could fall prey to the merciless terror of ISIS anytime in the future.

The government issued a statement denouncing ISIS after the tragic deaths of the two Japanese hostages. As a member of the international community, Korea has also provided $1.2 million in aid to Iraqi refugees in the region. We cannot rule out the possibility that the fanatical group will attempt to take Korean nationals hostage.

More than 1,000 Koreans are currently staying in Iraq, which ISIS is trying to take over. Most of them are construction workers who came into the area because of the oil boom, and they have been expanding their projects into areas that are currently under the influence of the extremist band. That means our workers are exposed to the danger of terror around the clock.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is establishing security measures through frequent contacts with our construction companies at home and abroad. But that’s not enough. President Park Geun-hye or the prime minister must come forward to warn the public about the ominous threat and come up with a comprehensive set of action plans to deal with potential contingencies. It must extend the travel ban on Iraq and Syria and take protective measures for our travelers, including providing safety information to them. At the same time, the government must persuade our religious communities to refrain from dispatching missionaries or organizing pilgrimage tours to holy places in the area, not to mention increasing the number of diplomats to protect Korean residents there. We saw a total of seven Koreans on pilgrimages to Yemen in 2009 and Egypt in 2014 murdered by radical Islamist groups.

Koreans must be aware that their safety comes first. Even though the government is responsible for the protection of Korean nationals overseas, it cannot guarantee their safety when they enter dangerous areas on their own after ignoring the government’s warnings. As it turned out, two of 23 devout followers of a Christian church were kidnapped and killed by the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2007 largely because they turned a blind eye to the government’s travel warning.

Some 16 million Koreans go overseas annually and seven million Koreans live in foreign countries. The government must do its best to protect them, and travelers must make efforts to protect themselves.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 5, Page 30

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