Multinational and Multi-cultural Daegu
Multinational and Multi-cultural Daegu
  • Hey-Min Kang , Min-Ju Kim
  • 승인 2009.02.12 15:42
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 There are 52,480 foreigners in Daegu and Gyeongsangbuk-do, specifically there are 22,822 foreigners in Daegu proper. They account for 0.92% of Daegu's population. Moreover, the number of foreigners has increased by 10.1% from last year. This has contributed to Daegu becoming a multinational and multi-cultural city. They primarily come from: China (46.2%), South-East Asia which includes Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and other countries (29.4%), Nepal and other countries in South Asia (6.5%), Taiwan (5%), USA (3.5%), Japan (2.2%), Middle Asia which includes Uzbekistan (2.2%), Mongolia, Russia, and others.   

Muslims in Daegu

In the west center of Daegu you can meet people who wear turbans, have beards, and have faces that are slightly darker than most Koreans every Friday and Sunday. You can also find shops with foreign signboards. The first time you go there it might be an unfamiliar scene to you. This place is the Daegu Islamic Center (DIC) at Jukjeon-dong, Dalseo-gu.   

DIC is a nonprofit, nonsectarian, educational and cultural organization. A number of Muslim businessmen started to trade in Daegu City in 1999. In the spring of 2002 DIC secured a building and reconstructed it to include a prayer hall, library, office, and student rooms. From 2002 to 2005 DIC has done well in developing a gathering of people and organizing a strong Muslim community. 

 Muslims living in Daegu come from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Uzbekistan, Egypt, and Indonesia. The majority of them work at the Sungseo Industrial Complex, but a few of them are students, American, and Korean. The number of Muslims is roughly estimated at 20,000 in Daegu, and two hundred people attend DIC on a regular basis. "We pray five times; twice in the morning, and then at 4, 6, and 8 p.m, before going to sleep everyday. Every Friday and Sunday is the formal prayer days," said Shani, a Pakistani migrant worker. He explained the reason they pray together is they want to be united in the sight of Allah.    

Though their outward appearance is different from Koreans, they don't feel the difference. "We think that in Daegu, we can live easily according to the teachings of Islam. We don't have any problems. Most of the Korean students in my department are very good. I am fond of them. They are cooperative, very kind, and very good people," said Ali, a Pakistani student at Kyungpook National University. He also said, "When Koreans ask questions about lslam, we are pleased. lslam is a religion of peace and we want to see world peace and love in many different nations."   

However, the question must be asked "What do Korean people think about Islam and Muslims?" A highschool student living close to DIC for 17 years said that she feels scared when they speak to her or whistle, they look threatening. A neighborhood supermarket clerk said "I don't know about them. Are they Muslims? I take no interest in them and DIC." A woman working in a dining hall said, "I don't know why they live there, but I think it is a shame that they have to live there."

"It is hard to live away from home," a Muslim student at YU, Zahid, said about the resident's comments. "The media has told them that Islam is bad. What the media tells them is what they believe. How can they know? They don't know about us. They didn't study Islam. They have only a little knowledge. They just believe what they hear. If some people discriminate, due to religion, this means they don't know about our religion."    

DIC is making an effort for cultural exchange by providing a comprehensive curriculum that offers students a broad range of both academic and religious subjects, including Qura'nic and Islamic Studies, as well as English Language. On the other side, the residents regard them as strangers. To embrace a new society is important, but concern about them is what is needed the most.   

Chinese Sojourners in Daegu   

There are 22,295 Chinese sojourners living in Daegu. Compared to other cities around the world this is not an insignificant number. A Few decades ago, Jong-no, Jung-gu had a huge Chinese village containing roughly 32,989 Chinese sojourners. Now, only a few Chinese restaurants and schools are left. 

 The history of Chinese sojourners in Korea stretches over 103 years. Daegu was famous for its textile industry, and Chinese drapers moved to Daegu in large numbers. Therefore, Daegu's China Town prospered for many years. In most situations, Chinese sojourners are getting rich all over the world. However, this is not the case in Korea. Some of the reasons, this is true, is that Korea does not promote a good environment for foreigners to live in. Specifically, the legal system is in place to accommodate Koreans, and often does not consider the rights of Chinese sojourners. In the 70s, the Korean Government took an anti-communist stance against China and broke off diplomatic relations. Due to that policy, the Korean Government began treating Chinese sojourners differently. Over the past 20 years, 10,000 Chinese sojourners have left Korea.   

This is clearly visible in the Daegu Chinese School. There are 17 Chinese schools in Korea, but there is only one in Daegu. The Daegu Chinese School is supported solely by the donations of the Chinese Association with no assistance from the Korean Government at any level. This is an indication of the size and solidarity of Daegu's Chinatown. However, Daegu's Chinatown has been getting smaller and smaller, and the number of students is also decreasing. There are 40 students in the Chinese middle and high school. In elementary school, there are 100 students including some Korean children. However, these schools are not authorized by the Korean Ministry of Education, so the diplomas they issue are useless in Korea. If a primary school student wants to enter middle school, he or she must pass the qualification examination. The worst result is when the high school students attempt to enter universities. They must pass two major tests; the qualification examination and the CSAT (College Scholastic Ability Test). Unfortunately, the scholastic ability of many of the Chinese students is not comparable to Korean students, because their curriculum is totally different. Because of this problem, many Chinese students go to Taiwan and China, because those countries scholastic requirements are more in line with the curriculum they have gone through. Recently, many Chinese children have entered Korean schools.   

Korea is a difficult place for Chinese sojourners to own their own business. Most people open Chinese restaurants and convenience stores. They have observed that Korea is the only country in the world where Chinese sojourners can not get rich. From 1970, the Korean Government has limited the commercial activities of foreigners. Chinese people can not own land, and they must pay a heavy tax burden. Many of them are born here, grow up here and make their living here, but Korea still treats them as foreigners.   

Recently, the Korean government has taken steps to improve the treatment of these sojourners, but many problems still exist. For example, there is little to no aid offered to assist for the elderly, foreigners are unable to access services on the internet because the sites will not accept their alien registration numbers, and many other problems. Many of these problems could be solved if the Chinese Association, the Chinese Embassy and the Korean Government worked together. We need a new system of support for Chinese sojourners, but the most important thing is that we as koreans need to be concerned with the situation of other people living and working in our country.   

Migrant Workers in Daegu  

It is not surprising that people in different countries hold different views of other nations since geographic boundaries have an effect on the way people think. However, according to the latest news, anti-illegal immigrant websites are cultivating resentment and even hostility toward illegal immigrants. This attitude can be described as xenophobia, a word that means an unreasonable fear or dislike of people from other countries. The people who dislike immigrants are going so far as to hold a movement to evict them from Marronnier Park in Seoul. Faced with these situations, how is life for a migrant worker in Daegu?   

There are many migrant workers in Daegu and Gyeongsangbuk-do. According to the Daegu Immigration Service, the number of workers was 45,919 in March 2007, and people working in the manufacturing industry accounted for 90 percent of the migrant workers in Korea. They primarily come from: Vietnam (20.5%), Indonesia (18.7%), the Philippines (11.9%), China (10.1%) and other countries (28.9%). The number of problem cases requiring counselling is 3,171, and has been on the rise for the past three years. Many of the workers have received assistance in demanding clearance of overdue wages (72.3%).  

Daegu and Gyeongsangbuk-do have about 7 centers and churches for foreign workers. The Counselling Center for Migrant Workers in Daegu is the most well known center among them. When we visited the center, there were only 4 counsellors, but about 30 people were waiting to ask for help and advice. The director at the center, Kyung-Tae Kim said, "We have a number of examples of problems concerning overdue wages. We present a petition to the Daegu Regional Ministry of Labor and represent the workers to the police in order to claim damages." In the center, we met a migrant worker from Nepal, named Bhimsem. He was visiting the center for his friend who hadn't received his wages for a few months. "My friend doesn't speak Korean well so we came together. We are waiting our turn for assistance." There were similar cases at the center that day, but they are not necessarily resolvable problems. Even if migrant workers are clearly cheated, if they don't have evidence, they can't receive their wages. "If the workers do not have not any pictures in the office or related papers, it is hard to help them. We called the president of one company, but they persisted in feigning ignorance. Especially, if the victim is an undocumented worker, there is no evidence of his labor," said the director.   

The shortcomings in our treatment of foreign workers do not end with money. Many migrant workers are still exposed to verbal and physical abuse. Lacany (a false name), a Pakistani worker, visited the center wearing a cast on his neck. He was working at his factory on night duty, and a factory manager got angry because he wasn't working fast enough. Suddenly the manager beat Lacany's neck with a wooden stick. Since then, Lacany quit the job and went to the hospital. "The company paid the medical expenses for three weeks. I still have to receive more treatment, but they won't pay extra money. So, I visited the center to sue them for the money," said Lacany. In cases like these, the workers can make a police report with a diagnosis from the hospital, but they don't receive compensation for unfair dismissal.

Not everybody suffers from acts of violence, but almost all the workers experience some kind of abuse. "The president of the company I work for doesn't call us by name. He refers to us by our nation, skin color, or outward appearance. He calls me Nepal because I'm Nepalese," said Bhimsem. He also said that he is often verbally abused if he doesn't do well in his labors. He said that he has come so accustomed to it that he doesn't even take notice of the abuse when it happens now. "When someone receives abusive language from Korean workers or the company president, there is nothing for it but to endure these insulting remarks." The biggest reason they have to endure the insults is the employer-centered system. In Korea, migrant workers are able to change their work place only three times, on the other hand, the employers are able to fire workers anytime they like. This one-sided system forces migrant workers to take the abuse. 

For the last ten years many workers have come to Daegu entertaining the Korean Dream, but for most of them it will not come true. The secretary in the center said, "For the past year, the number of consultations seems to be rising as the days progress. We do not take statistics yet, it is certain that the actual number of complaints would be alarming." She said that the serious issues are with the employer's consciousness. Whenever they blame their employees, they don't recognize their faults in a resolute manner. "It is a daily event. Sometimes we hear about abuse. They feel like we are intruding into a personal matter. It is hard to change their consciousness that it is their duty to protect the interests of migrant workers," she said.

The center has also helped migrant women married to Korean men. Some of them couldn't bear the domestic violence in their homes and were forced to runaway. On some occasions, their husband's mother watched them closely as if they were prisoners. The direct cause is the husbands regard their wives as their property. They are under the illusion that foreign migrant woman are not people but material goods. 

Actually, many of the problems we have discussed are superficial. The solution to many of these problems begins with a three sided effort. The existing problems must be contained. In other words we cannot allow the problems that exist currently to go unresolved. There also needs to be structural changes to the employment system when it comes to migrant workers. Finally social conciousness must be raised to the difficulties facing these people. These problems are not just theirs. They are yours and mine. The government is planning to drive away migrant workers in order to reduce the migrant work force by 10%, but this is not a viable solution in the long view. We have to change the attitude that migrant workers are just a labor tool. We should see them as people who aspire to live happy lives without fear that their rights will be abused. 

It is now a natural sight to meet a turbaned Muslim or Southeast Asian shopping on the street. We can feel this society is becoming closer to being a Multinational and Multi-cultural country. However, foreigners still live in their own society. Global societies should have an ultimate goal, that is to become like a salad bowl. In a salad bowl the parts go very well together, but the individual parts never lose their distinctiveness. We must also organize a legal system to embrace them and change our exclusionary way of thinking. If we can accomplish these things we will think of them as companions not aliens and not as minorities.

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