Local parents protest inclusion of Afghan children at schools
Some locals are protesting the government’s decision to enroll Afghan children resettled in the southern city of Ulsan at a single elementary school and kindergarten.
“I can't help but wonder if my children won’t be influenced, including by Islamic practices,” wrote one user on an online community forum of parents in Ulsan on Wednesday, following the announcement by the city’s education office of schools and kindergartens for the Afghan families resettled in Ulsan.
When Kabul fell to Taliban forces last August, Korea airlifted 391 Afghans out of the city. Members of the families brought to the country had worked for Korea's embassy in Kabul or on Korean aid projects and include medical professionals, IT experts and interpreters. They did not enter Korea as refugees but as "special contributors" and were issued long-term residence visas after relevant laws were amended.
Of them, nearly half — 157 Afghans of 29 households — were employed by a subcontractor of Hyundai Heavy Industries in Ulsan last month.
As the Afghans resettled in the southern city — the eighth most populated city in Korea, also known as a hub for shipbuilding industry — some Korean parents asked the local government to ensure that the Afghan children be dispersed throughout several schools and kindergartens, "for fear of the safety" of their own children.
A few even held rallies in front of an elementary school in the city to demand they do not accept Afghan students.
The Afghan children brought to Korea include 16 kindergartners, 28 elementary school students, 19 middle school students and 22 high school students.
Some Koreans criticized the parents for being xenophobic.
"What do these [Korean] parents mean, that they fear for the safety of their own children attending the same school as the Afghan children?" wrote a user on Twitter on Feb. 20. "It is far more dangerous to reject and treat them like criminals. How can people be so cruel to children?"
One user on an online forum of Ulsan residents wrote on Wednesday, “Instead of protesting forever, we should come up with measures to help these students settle down and find prompt educational opportunities.”
The superintendent of Ulsan Metropolitan Office of Education, Noh Ok-hee, held a press conference on Feb. 22 to state that the city education office “has no power over the designation of schools” for the Afghan students.
By law, students are given the option to choose from schools nearest to them in the school zone of their residence. All Afghan settlers in Ulsan live in one apartment complex in Dong District.
According to the Dong District Office, there is just one elementary school and one kindergarten in this zone. There are at least seven middle schools and six high schools in the zone.
As per the regulation, 28 Afghan elementary school students were placed in the one elementary school in their zone and the 16 kindergartners to a single kindergarten.
A text message sent from the kindergarten to Korean kids' parents on Wednesday said that there will be one 3-year-old Afghan joining a six-person class, five 4-year-old Afghans joining an 11-person class and two 5-year-olds joining a 24-person class.
“If nearly half of the classmates will be Afghans, shouldn’t they have at least asked the parents if they agree with this decision?” wrote a user on the online forum of Ulsan parents on Wednesday.
The education office has not released further information about the designation of middle schools for the Afghan students. The choice to enroll at a high school is not mandatory in the Korean education system, and only those who wish to attend high school can submit an application to the schools in their zone.
The language barrier is another hurdle for the students from Afghanistan.
“We will try to support the schools to run Korean language classes for the Afghan students,” said an official at the Ulsan education office.
BY BAEK KYUNG-SEO, ESTHER CHUNG [firstname.lastname@example.org]