Xenophobia and law
Anti-racism act needed to prevent social conflicts
Is Korea a xenophobic country? The answer is yes and no. Depending on how we look at what’s going on here, the answer could be either.
Yet what is clear is that a huge influx of migrant workers, immigrant wives and North Korean defectors has made Korea a multicultural society in the past decade. Against this backdrop, few will deny that racial discrimination and xenophobia will become a stumbling block to Korea’s sustainable development especially amid low birthrates and many experts have raised the need to legislate a law prohibiting racial discrimination.
Unfortunately, however, there have been a string of incidents recently that have fanned xenophobia and controversy over racial discrimination.
The brutal murder and dismemberment of a young woman last month in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province sparked public outrage against foreigners as the murder suspect was identified as a 42-year-old Chinese man of Korean descent. A few weeks later, a 44-year-old Korean-Chinese man murdered his 43-year-old former girlfriend.
Before and after the April 11 National Assembly elections, Jasmin Lee, a 35-year-old naturalized Korean citizen and Seoul City civil servant originally from the Philippines, received threats on the Internet and through social networks over her nomination as a proportional representative candidate of the ruling Saenuri Party. The case is often cited as a good example showing how deep-rooted racial discrimination is here.
In March, a high school student who was born to a Korean father and Russian mother committed multiple acts of arson in a matter of hours. The 17-year-old boy had always been the object of bullying for his distinctive and different appearance. The case was revealed belatedly earlier this month, awakening people to the harsh reality of the racism children from multicultural families face here.
Last week, the Ministry of Strategy and Finance said the 19th National Assembly that will begin its session this week will have to look at the possibility of enacting an anti-racism law in a preemptive measure to prevent social conflicts.
There are none, if any, who oppose the necessity to embrace foreigners as neighbors and friends, given the prospect that Korea will soon wrestle with a chronic workforce shortage. Currently, nearly 1.4 million foreigners reside here and 210,000 of them are foreign women who have married Korean men. The number of non-Korean residents is expected to reach 3 million by 2030. Most of them are employed in 3D (dirty, difficult and dangerous) jobs shunned by Koreans.
There is also a call for an anti-racism law from the standpoint of the country’s survival. This notion suggests that Korea, the world’s 13th largest economy with an annual trade of more than $1 trillion, should more actively embrace foreign cultures and foreigners in the belief that without continual exchange with the international community, Korea wouldn’t subsist.
The anti-racism law, if enacted, will envision punishment for those who make derogatory remarks and discriminate against foreigners due to differences of nationality, race and language. At first, the law could be confined to recommendations and declarations but in time, breaking it would entail fines and other substantial penalties.
We welcome the legislation in that it will boost international competitiveness and upgrade the nation’s image abroad. Of course, the government should pay heed to the possible controversy over counter-discrimination against Korean nationals but what is needed more than anything else is that Koreans will have to get rid of their prejudice against foreigners.