The number of foreign residents in Seoul has now reached about 410,000, accounting for about one in every twenty-five people. This changing demographic of Seoul has motivated the city administration to develop policies to support the foreign residents of the city. As a result, the city is currently carrying out a variety of initiatives to create an advanced, multi-cultural cosmopolitan community built on the basis of cultural diversity, thereby improving the quality of life of its foreign residents.
In May this year, the city of Seoul announced the Seoul Master Plan for Multicultural Values, a five-year plan to provide a comprehensive support program for the foreign residents of Seoul. The first of its kind ever launched by a local government in Korea, the plan is expected to establish an efficient support network by 2018, which, under the motto “an era of multiculturalism and the creation of a city of diverse values,” will brighten the darkest corners of the city, where even the welfare programs of the central government have failed to reach. There are currently several projects operating in various areas of the city as part of the master plan, which consists of 100 projects and 14 policy groups and has been established with four goals: (1) propagation of the value of human rights, (2) promotion of cultural diversity, (3) sharing of growth, and (4) consolidation of capacity.
One of the top priorities currently adopted by the city administration of Seoul for its foreign-born citizens is a policy to protect their human rights in a more efficient, systematic way. As an initial step, the city formed the Foreign-born Citizens’ Human Rights Team in the Office for Women and Family Policy Affairs and four Shelters for Foreign-born Citizens to provide assistance to the city’s foreign residents looking for temporary shelter due to unemployment, domestic trouble, or other difficulties. The city’s mid- to long-term plan for the shelters is to develop them into the Municipal Shelter for Foreign-born Citizens. Another program related to this effort is the “Seoul Correspondent” program, which employs foreign-born citizens or students who speak both Korean and their native language to support communication between the public, private institutions, and citizens who don’t speak Korean. This program aims to help non-Korean speaking citizens overcome the language barrier and prevent discrimination based on language.
Promotion of cultural diversity and creation of a multicultural landmark
The city of Seoul operates a variety of programs that work to boost communication and cultural exchange between Korean and foreign-born citizens and help the latter actively participate in the various activities of the local communities to which they belong. Next year, the city plans to establish the Foreign Residents Council, the first of its kind in Korea, through which foreign-born citizens can voice their concerns and participate in the establishment and operation of the civil services the city administration provides for them. Another important civil organization planned to be formed in 2018, the International Cultural Center aims to support non-OCED member states establish their own cultural councils while keeping costs to a minimum. Housed in a seven-story building, the center will host a variety of multicultural events, including exhibitions and lectures, for visitors seeking new cultural experiences. The center is expected to become the hub of Seoul’s multicultural efforts. Finally, Seoul also plans to designate each month of the year in commemoration of a particular country to represent the foreign citizens of Seoul as well as support events commemorating the cultural heritage of each country.
Expansion of educational facilities for foreign residents
The Seoul city government is currently expanding educational programs and facilities for its foreign-born citizens. Of these, the Seoul Global Center, located in Jongno in downtown Seoul, is regarded as particularly important as it provides foreign residents with one-stop service regarding the various difficulties they tend to face in Seoul, Korea. Recently, the city opened a new center in Daerim-dong, Yeongdeungpo-gu, to serve the residents living in and around the southwestern part of Seoul. The building, a four-story structure with a basement level, contains lecture and consultation rooms as well as rooms for other related events. The operation of the 42 support facilities, including the global centers scattered around the capital will be particularly focused on weekend service. The city also plans to open the Citizenship Academy in 2015 as part of the effort to educate foreign residents on their rights and responsibilities as citizens of Seoul, and to promote their participation in related activities.