Time to Think About the Lot of Ethnic Koreans from China

      April 11, 2012 13:35

      The grisly murder of a young woman by an ethnic Korean man from China was followed by the stabbing of the owner of a job search agency in Seoul by another, apparently resulting from an argument over back wages. The incidents have stoked resentment of ethnic Koreans from China, with calls for their deportation and other denigratory comments about them cluttering up the Internet.

      Around half of the 1.36 million foreigners in Korea are Chinese, and 70 percent of them, or 460,000, are ethnic Koreans. Most of them live in the Yeongdeungpo, Guro and Geumcheon districts on the outskirts of Seoul, surrounding Gyeonggi Province or in the satellite cities of Suwon and Ansan just south of the capital.

      Wongok-dong in Ansan, a neighborhood especially favored by ethnic Koreans from China, has seen a rise in violent crime, and some residents there say they are afraid to go outside after dark. There has also been a rise in prostitution, gambling, drug dealing and extortion committed by ethnic Korean gangs targeting others in their group. The number of Chinese nationals arrested for crimes in Korea rose 22.6 percent from 12,791 in 2007 to 15,682 in 2011.

      Ethnic Koreans from China make a living here as laborers on building sites, in small factories and on poultry farms or as waiters and waitresses, housemaids and caregivers for the sick. Factories, restaurants and building sites would collapse without them, and employers compete to hire them due to a scarcity of available workers.

      Korean Chinese here not only earn paltry wages but also face emotional and psychological hardship from being separated from their families. And many of them feel they are looked down on by native Koreans. The Suwon murderer, who shocked people by dismembering his young female victim, made between W1.5 million to W2 million a month working on construction sites and sent home money to his wife and child back in China whenever he was able to save up W15 million (US$1=W1,130). Despite their hard work, crimes like the recent incidents increase the chances that they are relegated to the status of unwelcome guests, like migrant workers in many parts of Europe.

      It is time for the government to come up with long-term plans to ensure that the number of foreigners here, including ethnic Koreans from China, does not reach unmanageable levels. At the same time, it has to ensure that they receive humane and equitable treatment. Most of all it needs to improve communication and dialogue with them.

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