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The changing face of South Korea
South Korea has long valued the idea of ethnic purity but in the last decade the number of migrants to the nation has almost doubled.

Korea is one of Asia's most racially homogenous countries with a culture that's long put value on the idea of ethnic purity. But over the past decade the number of migrants in Korea has doubled to 1.5 million.

Economic pressure, mostly the need for labour, is the driving force. But official figures show most people don't welcome outsiders.

James Oaten reports from Seoul.
Transcript
JAMES OATEN, REPORTER: Justine Tiempo (phonetic) enjoys a comfortable Korean life. She has a hard working supportive husband, an apartment a short distance from Seoul and two young children. In her spare time Ms Tiempo teaches English.

But it was a very different story when she arrived from the Philippines 10 years ago for an arranged marriage.

JUSTINE TIEMPO (subtitled): For me it's very sad for me that live very far from my family and I really miss them before I left Philippines. And when I came to Korea, I stayed in the church for four months. All the time, I'm really worried, what life is going to be.

JAMES OATEN: There was no one to help her learn the language and Korea was vastly different to her devoutly Christian Filipino home. She felt isolated and alienated.

JUSTINE TIEMPO (subtitled): There are some people that are very welcoming, but sometimes I've had the experience that they disregard as some foreigner.

(Footage of people learning Korean plays)

JAMES OATEN: Over the past 10 years, Korea's migrant population has more than doubled to 1.5 million. Today fewer migrants find themselves having to cope alone. Here at the Seoul and Dream Multiculturalism Education Centre, 150 migrants take part in free classes ranging from language, IT and art.

But the country's most high profile migrant, Jasmine Lee, says the government has a lot of work to do.

REP. JASMINE LEE, GOVERNMENT MP: The government is actually very unprepared for quite the fast rise of the immigrants in the country. So because of that, there's a lot of notion that we have to teach them the Korean way. Now, it's actually changing. The society is actually changing.

JAMES OATEN: Jasmine isn't just carping from the sidelines. In April the former Filipino TV star became the first non Korean born member of parliament, winning a seat for the ruling Saenuri Party.

(Footage of the website of the campaign against Jasmine Lee is shown)

But her victory attracted an ugly backlash. She's been the target of a racist online campaign questioning her right to live in Korea.

JASMINE LEE: During those times I received a lot more calls and text messages from people saying, you know, cheering me up, giving me their support. And I think it's just kind of blown up back because you know people tend to blow up negative facts rather than the positive things.

JAMES OATEN: Korea is still one of the most ethnically homogenous nations. In Seoul it's a struggle to find evidence of any migrants. A few Chinese shops and Filipino markets hint at the migrant community hidden among the city's 10 million people.

The country's economic rise converts it from a migrant exporting nation to a migrant importing one. By 2020 the government expects one in five families will be multicultural.

To cope with that influx, the government has been implementing education and counselling services as well as translation hotlines for new migrants.

SEON-HYE KANG, MINISTRY OF GENDER EQUALITY AND FAMILY (translation): We have call centres for multicultural families. They can easily call them and talk to our advisers who provide services in nine languages. If marriage immigrants need help for everyday activities, the interpreters can accompany them and take care of legal or medical issues, or simpler tasks like going to see the doctor or going to the community administration centres.

JAMES OATEN: The number of migrant friendly programs is certainly on the rise, but advocacy groups say there needs to be a major cultural shift in the way Koreans see the country's newest arrivals.

Last year a government survey of 2,500 people showed only 36 per cent welcomed migrants.

JASPER KIM, ASIA-PACIFIC GLOBAL RESEARCH: We're seeing non Koreans coming into South Korea not just to visit but also to live on a permanent basis. This is fundamentally new, it's a paradigm shift for South Korea. It's a country at that values being a homogenous society. You see Koreans talk they speak in terms 'well this is our country'. 'Weinada' (phonetic) is the term, is the expression that's been used over and over again.

(Footage of 'I Love Korea' booth on street plays)

JAMES OATEN: It is this approach that hardline conservative parties are adopting in an attempt to stem rising immigration rates. I love Korea is an amalgamation of six anti-migration groups who claim to have more than 20,000 members. It blames migrants for a raft of problems from rising divorce rates to escalating crime.

RYU BYUNG-KYUN, LEADER, 'I Love Korea' (translation): Crimes by foreign workers are serious. I'm not sure it is a matter of their low educational background in slums, but they do not follow social norms easily and often have impulses towards criminal behaviour.

JAMES OATEN: Pastor Jones Aspino (phonetic) has seen that attitude up close. He helps new migrants find work but says many are subject to discrimination - working long hours, receiving lower wages and being paid irregularly. New laws also prevent migrants accessing lists of prospective employees.

PASTOR JONES ASPINO (subtitled): We are accepting all effort to teach the migrant workers the language of Koreans, the culture of Koreans to understand more the culture so the conflict will be decreased. But since the Government needs the migrant workers, they need these people right, they should be the ones to do more effort, to understand the culture of the migrant workers.

JAMES OATEN: Korea can't go back. Its population is ageing rapidly and it needs foreign workers to keep the economy growing.

But for a country and culture that has long celebrated ethic purity, moving to a more multicultural society isn't proving easy. Both Korean born and the new arrivals will have to have a say in how the country adapts and changes.
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