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Many Koryoin still displaced, distraught

Assembly may revise law to expand current qualification range
Nov 16,2017
이미지뷰
Fourth-generation Koryoin siblings Elizabeth and Nikita Park look out the window of Saenal School, a multicultural school in Gwangsan District, Gwangju, last Friday. Koryoin are descendants of Korean nationals who migrated to former Soviet states during the late Joseon period and Japan’s imperial rule. [JANG JEONG-PIL]
Last September, the Blue House made the first step in acknowledging the plight of ethnic Koreans born in former Soviet states when it temporarily allowed fourth-generation Koryoin to stay in Korea until June 2019 without having to return to their country of birth every 90 days, as was required before.

But this is only a temporary solution, and the 40,000 Koryoin currently living in Korea still face challenges looking for jobs and learning the language of their ancestors.

Many Koreans left the peninsula during the late Joseon period (1392-1910) and Japan’s imperial rule in search of a better life or to take part in the independence movement. But in 1937, they were forcibly relocated far from the Korean border into Central Asia by then-Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, who wanted to prevent Korean nationals from spying for the Japanese empire. Now, 80 years after Koryoin were forcibly relocated to the former Soviet Union states, there are 40,000 of them living in Korea. Many live in communities to support each other when job-searching and providing education for children.

Gwangsan District, Gwangju, home to the second-largest Koryoin community in Korea after Ansan, Gyeonggi, currently hosts 4,000 Koryoin. Though they began settling in the relatively more affordable Gwangsan District from the early 2000s, 96 percent of Koryoin there work as factory workers or day laborers in farms today, unable to break through language barriers.

Given the influx of Koryoin coming to Korea, the government is now struggling to decide which Koryoin qualify as Korean and which to consider as foreigners.

Currently, the Overseas Korean Act only acknowledges up to third-generation Koryoin as overseas Koreans who qualify for permanent residency. Fourth-generation Koryoin over 20 must enter Korea on a a short-term visitor visa such as the C3-8 Visa, and fly back to their country of birth every 90 days.

In August, the Blue House received a letter of complaint from 58-year-old Alexandra Kim, a third-generation Koryoin, who pleaded with President Moon Jae-in to allow her daughter to stop going on “abnormal journeys” between Russia and Korea three or four times every year. As a response, the Moon administration temporarily allowed fourth-generation Koryoin to stay in Korea from Sept. 13 to June 2019 without facing visa restrictions.

The National Assembly is currently looking into revising the law regarding residency of ethnic Koreans to expand the range of people who qualify for permanent residency, and thus may receive the corresponding legal benefits. It is also planning to offer Koryoin support in Korean education and basic health insurance. Once they attain permanent residency status, fourth-generation Koryoin will also be relieved from the financial burden of having to purchase flight tickets.

Given the multinational nature of the Koryoin’s situation, relevant governments, including that of Uzbekistan, whose citizens make up 80 percent of the 4,000 Koryoin living in Gwangsan District, are getting involved. On Nov. 7, Uzbekistan’s Minister of Employment and Labor Relations Aktam Khaitov met with the Koryoin there, and Uzbekistani President Shavkat Mirziyoyev will make his visit next Tuesday. According to a Korean spokesman for Koryoin, the Uzbekistani government is even planning to open a consulate in Gwangju to do its part in helping their Koryoin.

BY CHOI KYEONG-HO, KIM EUN-JIN [kim.eunjin1@joongang.co.kr]