02/03/2015, 00.00
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Mixed marriages, key to migrants integration in Korea

by Maurizio Giorgianni OMI
Marriages between a Korean man and a woman from another country are often the result of a financial transaction, rather than love. But the statistics show that 8.7% of all marriages in the country is of this type, and today 67,800 children studying in national schools are children of multicultural families. They are the way forward for the acceptance of migrants. Part II of an analysis by an OMI missionary on the peninsula.

Gwangju (AsiaNews) - The government and the Catholic Church in Korea are working well to help the "second generation" of migrants in Korea to find a place in society. But foreigners are still considered "different", "second class" citizens. Mixed marriages are leading to a rapidly growing number of children from these marriages. They need suitable policies and pastoral care. Part II of an analysis by Fr. Maurizio Giorgianni, Oblate of Mary Immaculate who has been working with migrants in South Korea (Part I click here).

One of the avenues to emigrate to South Korea is that of so-called "international marriages". First of all it should be emphasized that in certain situations rather than marriage it is "buying" a wife, in the sense that agencies and dealers earn large sums of money from contracting similar unions. Generally the foreign woman are very young while the man is 15 or even 20 years older. Moreover, most of the time it is the second or third marriage for the man involved. There are some couples who live quite peaceably, but more often than not the huge difference in culture, language and expectations regarding the marriage create conflict.

Often, the grounds for the marriage differ between the couple involved: economic reasons are predominant among the women  (to escape a situation of poverty and help their family of origin); while for the man, the need to have someone to do household chores, to combat loneliness or sometimes also to help in the work place are the main reasons. Sometimes the woman is kept almost as a "prisoner" (not given the opportunity to study the language, to have money available for personal expenses), especially when these marriages are contracted among the socially and culturally poorer classes.

The Korean government is trying to resolve these situations by giving financial support to multicultural couples, helping the education of children, trying to help the integration of this category of "migrants". In fact they are the only "stable" migrant presence in Korean society (other migrants with work visas must in fact sooner or later return to their country of origin). But very often they fail.

Migrant inclusion in the host society is very important, but also very complicated. If by "inclusion" we mean "integration", it must be said with honesty there is very little here.

Considering that the laws on migration in Korea do not allow a migrant to remain legally in the country for more than seven years, it is easy to understand why Korean society does not pursue a real policy of migrant "integration". The immigrant is seen and considered as "a guest who works in the territory", but who must will return to his country of origin sooner or later.

As for the acceptance of the foreign presence in Korean society, in the not too distant past in Korea there was a certain openness and greater acceptance. For historical reasons, the foreign presence in Korea has always been seen as a "invading presence", because of which the foreigner here has never been seen in an entirely positive light. Slowly, however, things are changing.

The Catholic Church and the various shelters that the Church runs (for the pastoral care of migrants, Catholics here are very well organized) are working hard to promote the positive acceptance of foreigners in society, and within a Catholic context they are considered as "neighbors" to love and respect. And when the migrant shares the same Christian faith then efforts are made to have him considered as our brother in faith, to be accepted in the Christian assemblies and given a place in the pastoral care of parishes. Many churches have Sunday Masses in English or other languages for migrants, with priests in charge of their care and premises made available for meetings or gatherings (catechesis, Korean language schools or similar activities).

The government is starting to more specifically tackle the task of integration by targeting multicultural families. The latest statistics show that 8.3% of marriages in 2013 are "intercultural" (between a Korean and a foreigner). In particular, they are focusing on the children of multicultural families (Korean father and foreign mother). The 2014 statistics speak of 67,800 children born into multicultural families in Korean schools. They are little more than 1% of total students, but still represent an increase of 21.6% in a year. It is expected that in the next three years the number of students from multicultural families could reach 100 thousand units (data of the Ministry of Education).

These figures represent a challenge for the education system in Korea, so we need the government to be aware of them. One study revealed that in the current textbooks, the multicultural family is always put in opposition to the "normal" Korean family. For which the Ministry of Education has decided to revise textbooks and adapt to the new situation with a more positive view of the "foreigner in society." There is an ongoing effort to improve the education system for students who are "children of migrants ", with support in learning the Korean language, but also favoring the idea that the culture and language of the foreign spouse be preserved, known and learned by the children. A report of the National Commission (Korean) for Human Rights showed that 41.3% of the children from multicultural families have no Korean friends. This shows that the Koreans have little tolerance towards multicultural migrant families.

At a Church level, I believe that we should pursue the path of integrating ministry for migrants within the context of parish pastoral care programs (while maintaining a "special" care for migrants) so as not to "marginalize" them, and increase awareness of solidarity and acceptance of migrants among the faithful. Certainly there is much to do regarding Korea's migration laws. Often it migrants are considered "second class" people whose fundamental rights are ignored. This is because the laws tend to put the economic and political interests of the nation first rather than the fundamental rights of the person. Surely the steps that Korean society is taking to protect and take care for multicultural families is a positive sign, which could lead to greater openness towards migrants. But more still needs to be done. (end of Part II) 

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