Migrant workers’ children face discrimination in South Korea

In South Korea, national pride and materialism deepen Koreans’ hostility towards foreigners from developing countries like Mongolia.

SEOUL, May 31, 2012 -  Yoo Hyung Geum opened Mongol School to educate the children of migrant workers from Mongolia and to restore their hope and future. Many Mongolian migrant workers bring their children when they move to South Korea to work.  Culturally, it is more important for Mongolian children to live with their parents than to continue their education in their country. Many Mongolian children, after arriving in South Korea, have limited access to public services, including free education in South Korean schools.

Having served migrant workers’ communities in South Korea for more than decades, pastor Yoo understands the mundane struggles of migrant workers and their children in South Korea. He has witnessed all kinds of exploitation of migrant workers by their Korean employers.

“Compared to late 90s, the employers treat their migrant workers much better. At least, the workers are compensated and the law protects them from employers’ confiscation of their passports,”  says pastor Yoo.

However, when it comes to the rights of migrant workers’ children, pastor Yoo says Korean society has a long way to go to improve their rights.

On a superficial level, foreigners cannot easily distinguish Mongolians from South Koreans. But within Korea, Mongolians are subject to discrimination.

One Mongolian student, Batmong*, recalls his unpleasant memory about Korean students.

“During our lunch break, we like to play on the playground near by the Korean school right next to our school. But, whenever we passed by the school’s building, Korean students threw milk, erasers, or garbage at us from their classroom on the second floor. And, it didn’t stop until we asked our teachers for intervention. I don’t think they respect us as individuals because our country is poor.”

Prior to attending Mongolian school, Batmong attended a Korean elementary school. Batmong said that his Korean classmates used to ask him if he rode a horse to get anywhere in his country to tease him.

“They teased me to imply that I was from some uncivilized and poor country in the backside of a mountain,” said Batmong.

Batmong believes that if Mongolia becomes a developed country, Koreans will start respecting Mongolians like him. Batmong says that his dream is to go back to Mongolia and become a politician to bring economic prosperity to his country.

Oorie, a 19 years old Mongolian who graduated from pastor Yu’s school, explains her horrendous experience at a Korean school.

“I used to attend a Korean school when I was a 3rd grader. I thought I was lucky to be able to attend Korean school because it was much bigger than the Mongolian schoo.l And only a few selected migrant workers’ children can attend Korean school upon the Korean principle’s discretion.”

One day, while she was walking downstairs with other students, a Korean student pushed her from her back. As a result, she fell down the stairs and broke her front teeth. She also injured her muscles on her upper lips. Since then, she can’t completely close her mouth and receives the treatment to recover from the injury.

Ms. Lee , the vice president at Mongols school, says that many migrant workers’ children lack self-esteem after experiencing discrimination by their South Korean peers.

“Here in Mongols School, we try to teach them to take pride in who they are as Mongolians despite the racism they experience in South Korea. We hope that they will go back to Mongolia and become leaders in their own country,” explains Ms. Lee, the vice-president of the Mongols school.

Without receiving proper education in South Korea, Mongolian children often face more obstacles once they move back to their own country.

“Many migrant workers do not realize the importance of their children’s education while living in South Korea. There is no one to care for the children because their parents often have to work for 12 or 14 hours a day at a Korean factory. It’s anybody’s guess whether they are even fed while their parents are gone for work.”

Pastor Yoo’s school provides not only education but also give free lunch to all students. Some students stay at the school’s dorm because they have no one to care for them at home.

“In the past, we used to offer complete free education and lunch to our students. But, our experience shows that both students and their parents take free education and meal not seriously. They would often miss classes. So, we began charging them $80 a month to give them a sense of accountability. It forces them not to miss classes for no reason,” according to Vice President Lee.

Still, $80 is not sufficient to pay for teachers’ salaries and other educational costs. The school also lost funding from the local government and major donors last year.

“Both the Korean and Mongolian governments require us to have licensed Mongolian teachers. Otherwise, we will lose our status as part of Mongolian education system. Without the status, the students cannot begin their high school in Mongolia after graduating from our school,” laments Lee.

Despite rapid economic development, South Korea remains tragically stunted in terms of civil rights.  Rights for marginalized populations are virtually non-existent in South Korea. Children of illegal immigrants from developing countries face even greater discrimination.  Pastor Yoo hopes that will change sooner in South Korea rather than later. 

For more information: visit: http://mongolschool.org/new/


Youngbee Dale is a writer, researcher, and human rights advocate. She invites you to join her on Google+Facebook, or Twitter

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Youngbee Dale

Youngbee Dale graduated from Regent University with Master’s degree in International Politics in 2009. While at Regent, she interned at World Bank and co-contributed to a human trafficking publication, “Setting the Captives Free” by Olivia McDonald (2007). She also worked with migrant workers and human trafficking victims in South Korea. Currently, she stays home with her three-month-old son to exercise the divine rights to mother and breastfeed him. 

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