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Koreans more open to foreigners in society than LGBTQ+: data

By Choi Jeong-yoon

Published : March 19, 2024 - 17:53

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Koreans are more open to accepting foreigners as members of their society compared with other social minority groups including sexual minorities and North Korean defectors, data by a state-affiliated think tank showed Tuesday.

The Korea Institute of Public Administration's annual survey, conducted last year, measuring the social exclusion level of the Korean society involving 8,221 Korean citizens aged 19 or older showed that only 7.2 percent of the respondents were "unwilling to accept foreigners as fellow members of society." The figure fell 2.8 percentage points on-year, reflecting their increased willingness to accept foreigners as fellow members of their society.

The data comes as South Korea saw the highest number of foreigners residing in the country last year, amounting to over 1.43 million, a 10 percent increase from the previous year.

The data also indicated that Koreans were more willing to integrate foreigners into their society compared with other minority groups here. Ex-convicts received the most refusals with some 72 percent, followed by sexual minorities or LGBTQ+ with 52.3 percent. North Korean defectors ranked No. 3 with 16.5 percent of the respondents claiming they could not embrace such a group of people. Single-parent families saw 2.5 percent while people with mental and physical disabilities saw 3.2 percent, respectively.

When asked to what extent they were willing to accept each minority in different types of relationships, the percentage of people who responded that they were willing to accept LGBTQ+ as neighbors, coworkers and friends came to 47.6 percent, nearly half the result for foreigners, which saw 90.1 percent.

For North Korean defectors, 88.2 percent of the respondents said they could have them as neighbors, coworkers and close friends.

The background of why Koreans feel closer to foreigners than other social minorities such as LGBTQ+ and defectors lies in the idea that Korean society revolves around "values" and "familiarity," according to an expert.

"Korea is a country where value plays pivotal roles in many parts of the society. As Christianity makes up a big part of the population, exclusion and hatred of sexual minorities persist while the existence of North Korea as an adversary created unconscious hostility for some in the community," explained Bae Sang-hoon, former sociology and police administration professor at Woosuk University.

"Also Koreans are yet to become familiar with social minorities like LGBTQ+ and North Korean defectors in a way that they don't have many opportunities to encounter them in daily life. Whereas the number of foreigners living and working in Korea has increased, leading to many feeling more familiar to foreigners," said Bae.

"The fact that Koreans experience foreigners in forms of content and through media also helps Koreans feel familiar to a certain group."

However, on the issue of "trusting" foreigners, the number noticeably declined. The respondents' "trust level" of Korean colleagues and friends came to an average 2.9 points on a scale of four, but the corresponding level for foreigners came to an average 1.8 points, equivalent to how they view "total strangers."

The latest data explained that social integration is crucial as a means to resolve various forms of social conflict, as Korean society is becoming more culturally, racially and ideologically diverse.