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Safety concerns grow over working holiday program

Safety concerns grow over working holiday program

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Published : 2013-12-21 11:18
Updated : 2013-12-21 11:26

Concerns are rising over young Koreans taking part in a working holiday program in Australia after two students were murdered within a one-month span.

Kim Min-tae, a 20-something student, was found dead Thursday in the eastern coast city of Brisbane. He was last seen Monday before leaving home to exchange about 15,000 Australian dollars ($13,300) into South Korean won through a classified advertisements website.

Kim, who had been preparing to return home in a few weeks, was apparently attracted by the advertiser’s offer of prime exchange rates despite his roommate’s reported caution about engaging in a private financial transaction with a stranger.

News reports said that Australian police initially arrested three Koreans but later indicted just one of them, only identified by his surname Hwang, on suspicion of murder. But Seoul’s Foreign Ministry said it was unconfirmed as of Friday afternoon.

The incident follows the death of Ban Eun-ji, another working holiday visa holder in her early 20s. She was killed last month by a local man while going to her cleaning job at a Brisbane hotel early in the morning.

Korea and Australia launched the program in 1995, allowing the two countries’ citizens aged between 18 and 30 to spend up to two years studying, interning and traveling in each other’s country.

Of 15 host countries, Australia is one of the most popular because it has no quota on the number of participants, together with Germany, Denmark and Sweden.

An average of 47,000 Koreans have taken part in the program every year since 2008, about 70 to 80 percent of them chose Australia.

But recent incidents stoked concerns that most youngsters have few job options given such factors as language barriers and their lack of job experience, thus landing in blue-collar jobs that often entail poor working conditions.

To improve the program and ensure the participants’ greater safety, the Foreign Ministry is conducting an online survey until the end of the month on each host country’s living and working conditions and procedural drawbacks.

In Australia, it plans to open a safety and information center within its embassy in Canberra as early as next month to provide more systematic support, a ministry official told reporters, asking anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.

By Jeong Hunny (hj257@heraldcorp.com)

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