Korean embassy in Kenya hit for poor services
By Ryu Chang-gi
Koreans living in Kenya are frustrated with the Korean Embassy for its alleged poor consular services, saying staff there are not cooperative and slow to respond to their petitions.
A 55-year-old Korean man who has run a small business in the African country for 20 years expressed his distrust in the embassy officials Wednesday.
The man, who wanted to identify himself only as Kim, added that if he could, he would be willing to change his nationality due to his frustration with the embassy officials who fail to protect Korean people who are wrongly accused of various charges in Kenya.
Kim, who has long worked for a Korean community group there, said he was upset at the way the embassy staff have handled the latest case involving a Korean teenager on her way to the airport who was arrested by Kenyan police on Aug. 21 after drugs were found hidden in dolls that were in her luggage.
Kim said months ago he had also been put into a prison in Kenya for three days after he was wrongly accused of embezzlement.
“The condition of the prison was horrible. What angered me most at that time was that no South Korean consul visited me for any interview. I felt like I was abandoned,” he said. “I imagine that the teenage Korean girl, who was arrested last week on suspicions of drug trafficking, is very scared and feeling like there is no one she can rely on there.”
The high-school girl was on her way to the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to return to Seoul after a week-long trip to the African country.
She was quoted by a foreign ministry official as claiming that she is “innocent.” The 19-year-old high school student said she carried the Masai wooden dolls without knowing drugs were inside them and said a Kenyan acquaintance asked her to hand them over to his colleague in Seoul.
“I think whether the high school girl is innocent or not is a secondary issue. She deserves consular access and help from the embassy. I am suspicious the embassy did not give that,” Kim said.
Some other Koreans living in the African country also told The Korea Times that the embassy was handling the case poorly.
Another Korean, who operates a restaurant in Nairobi and asked not to be named, said most Koreans in Kenya feel that the embassy makes little effort to protect the interest of the people they are there to help, who are often faced with disadvantages or unfair practices.
“I recently received a monthly telephone bill for $1,300, which was too much. I’ve never made calls that would cost that much,” he said. “I sought help from the Korean embassy to solve the problem but no one listened to me. I had to fight on my own against the Kenyan authorities.”
He said Koreans need proper protection from the embassy but they remain unprotected in most cases.
For its part, the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said its embassy in Kenya is doing its best to protect Koreans’ interests, denying the allegations that the staff there neglects their duties.
A ministry official said that it is not easy for the embassy to do anything for the teenager as she is already indicted under Kenyan criminal law.
“She is subject to Kenyan law. So it’s difficult for us to actively protect her for now. We are doing our best to help the teenage girl in prison,” the official said.
Chae Hyung-bok, a professor of international law of Kyungpook National University in Daegu, called on Korean diplomats to step up their effort to better protect overseas Koreans.
“I think the relatively small number of Korean embassies in Africa and an understaffed Kenyan embassy are probably reasons why the Koreans there are feeling inconvenienced,” Chae said.
He said China has 43 missions on the continent, while South Korea has only 14.