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Diplomats discuss migrants’ welfare

While migrants flock to Korea for work opportunities here, foreign diplomats say their countries’ people often face language barriers, long work hours and problems with pay. Those marrying here may face cultural differences with Korean spouses, while their children often struggle to settle at school.

Diplomats from Southeast Asia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal attended the 9th edition of The International Conference on Foreigners’ Welfare to discuss issues facing their countries’ workers in Korea.

While all said that foreign workers were largely happy here, they raised a range of issues they would like the Korean government to address.

The diplomats gave feedback to the president’s special advisor for culture, Bang Gui-hee, who pledged to pass on their messages. 
Presidential advisor on culture Bang Gui-hee (center, front row), ICFW president Shin Kwang-yul (third from right, front row) and foreign diplomats attend the 9th edition of The International Conference on Foreigners’ Welfare in Seoul on Wednesday. (Kirsty Taylor/The Korea Herald)
Presidential advisor on culture Bang Gui-hee (center, front row), ICFW president Shin Kwang-yul (third from right, front row) and foreign diplomats attend the 9th edition of The International Conference on Foreigners’ Welfare in Seoul on Wednesday. (Kirsty Taylor/The Korea Herald)

Philippine Embassy Labor Attache Felicitas Bay requested the Korean government alter Korea’s Employment Permit System for foreign workers to allow them to stay longer, and called for the regulation of entertainment visas to prevent human trafficking.

There are an estimated 50,000 Filipinos here, with 20,000 working under the EPS.

The EPS allows citizens of 15 countries to work here in the five sectors of agriculture, fisheries, manufacturing, industry and services. These are considered the “3ds” ― dirty, difficult and dangerous jobs that employers struggle to fill with Korean workers.

Bay said some of the further 2,000 Filipinos in the overseas performing arts were not documented in the Philippines but were issued visas to work in Korea.

“Given the conflict of regulation we would appreciate if the Korean government would consider that those who are given certificates of confirmation for visa issuance should really be tested by the government authorities here, and that the entertainment venue or performance venue should really be checked and classified,” she said. “I know that there are a lot of things to be ironed out but the basic thing is that we wouldn’t like to be victims of trafficking. We would like to maintain the dignity and morality of the Filipino women who are here.”

Speaking for Sri Lanka, charge d’ affaires Lakshitha Ratnayake, said his country’s 25,000 workers in Korea were prospering in all sectors apart from fisheries, where they lacked proper accommodation and worked for about 16 hours a day.

“They have been harassed constantly because in the last 5-7 months we got a lot of complaints,” he said.

“In Sri Lanka, fishermen have a different language and different behavior. When our workers came here they found that Korean fishermen were the same. Their language is tough and they are really strict workers. The government should have a mechanism to check whether fishermen who invite these foreign fishermen have a good place to accommodate them.”

Many of the 40,000 Bangladeshis in Korea enjoy good relations with employers, reported the Bangladeshi Embassy’s first secretary, Syed Nasir Ershad, but prompt pay should be promoted.

Chief of the Vietnamese Embassy’s Labor Management Bureau Nguyen Hai Nam said language barriers and late pay were issues for some of the 120,000 Vietnamese in Korea.

He called for training for Korean men marrying foreigners to help avoid cultural problems.

Nepalese charge d’ affaires Raja Ram Bartaula agreed that women from the 13,000-strong Nepalese community here faced difficulties, saying understanding cultures must work both ways.

The event at Seoul’s Millennium Hilton Hotel on Wednesday was organized by ICFW president Shin Kwang-yul.

By Kirsty Taylor (kirstyt@heraldcorp.com)
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