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Watchdog rules against bathhouse on discrimination

It is discriminatory to deny service based on a customer’s ethnicity, the state’s human rights watchdog said Tuesday.

The ruling by the National Human Rights Commission came after a bathhouse in Busan denied service to a naturalized Korean last year.

The NHRC recommended the bathhouse cease denying service to non-ethnic Koreans and foreigners in the November 25, 2011 ruling.

It also recommended the Busan Metropolitan Government and the Dong District Office where the bathhouse is located implement measures to prevent further instances of discrimination in bathhouses.

The incident took place last September when 31-year-old Gu Su-jin and her son were told by the management they couldn’t come in because they were foreigners.

“Foreigners may not come in. Foreigners can make the sauna dirty and there is also the problem of AIDS,” an employee allegedly told Gu.

“Korean guests will feel unwelcome and foreigners are therefore not allowed in at all.”

According to the NHRC, the owner said his patrons have negative perceptions of foreigners because some in the area prostitute themselves. The owner added that patrons have threatened to leave should the bathhouse begin accepting foreigners.

Gu is an ethnic Uzbekistani but took citizenship here in 2009 after marrying a Korean man. She and the Gyeongnam Migrant Community Service Center filed the complaint with the NHRC last October.

“The owner of the bathhouse does need to consider his customers, but that cannot be a justification for discrimination,” said an NHRC official.

A large number of the Korean population has negative perceptions of foreigners, according to a recent survey by a government health think tank.

The incident and the findings of the survey have highlighted a growing need for tolerance, as the number of foreigners entering the country continues to rise.

According to government data, as of September last year there were 1,418,149 foreign nationals in Korea.

By Robert Lee (robert@heraldcorp.com)
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