Choi Hyun-mo (Director of the Center for Migrant Workers’ Human Rights in Korea)
What is a multicultural society? How do you create a multicultural society? This is a question I hear very often these days. It is probably a reflection of the fact that the words ‘migrants’ and ‘multiculturalism’ are spreading like a fad in our society from some day.
One of the things that reflects the growing social interest in migrants and multiculturalism is the ‘Multicultural Festival with Migrants’ held in each region, and here is an example.
The ‘Gumi City Multicultural Festival’ was held on October 14th, hosted by Gumi City, Gyeongsangbuk-do. The city planned the festival through an event planning agency in Seoul, spending enormous resources, and tried to hold a large-scale event by mobilizing a large number of migrants and Koreans in the area. However, on the day of the festival, only the mobilized elderly and a few migrants filled the seats, and in fact, it ended as a ‘multicultural festival without migrants.
Local civic groups in Gumi-si are said to have pointed out from the beginning that holding such an event was only a one-time event with no effect whatsoever. Nevertheless, the unreasonable promotion of the event resulted in a waste of budget without even being able to properly proceed formally. From the beginning, it is the result of the attitude that it is enough to just hold a festival without any consideration for communion with local residents, including migrants in the area.
Nationally, from late September to late October, these events are held in various locations. NGOs that host events usually prepare small events with migrant communities from different countries, preparing events one by one, creating a place for local migrants and Koreans to mingle together.
Immigrants proudly welcome Koreans as guests at the feast they have prepared themselves, and they experience the opportunity to feel as neighbors living with the migrants around them that Koreans have overlooked or avoided. Although a lot has changed, in the Korean society where discrimination and contempt still persist, even for just one day, immigrants can feel the confidence to step forward.
This year, a campaign to call for support for Burma’s democratization movement, and the ‘UN Convention on the Rights of Migrants’, which the United Nations has enacted and recommended to each country, informs the atrocities of the Myanmar government, which is receiving international condemnation for its recent crackdown on democratization demands in various regions. It is said that meaningful events were held in which they could even think about democratization in Asia and human rights issues of migrants.
I believe that a multicultural society is a society in which migrants and Koreans can respect each other and enjoy living together as a daily life. And I believe that a multicultural society is not a one-sided initiative or mobilization, but a collaboration, consideration, and creation of even small things.
According to a recent government announcement, the number of foreigners staying in Korea for a long-term stay of 90 days or more has already exceeded 1 million. Considering Korea’s current population of 49 million, this is a high figure of over 2% of the total population. In addition, it is said that the nationalities of these foreigners are more than 200 out of about 230 countries around the world.
In particular, in the case of international marriages, which the government is interested in, the number of international marriages has increased by more than 10,000 every year since 2003, and the increase is accelerating. They have a family and their spouses are diverse enough to reach 96 countries.
As the new flow of change that Korean society has never experienced becomes visible, attention from all walks of life is focused. Almost all broadcasting companies competitively air programs with marriage immigrants as the main characters, and various symposiums are held at various academic societies, including universities, on the themes of ‘multiculturalism’ and ‘migrants’.
In addition, schools at each level are conducting classes to teach the cultures of other countries under the names of ‘education for international understanding’ and ‘multicultural education’. In the government sector, not only the central administrative department but also local governments are fighting each other and pouring out various policies that make ‘realization of a multicultural society where migrants live together’ as an important task. It seems as if Korean society is becoming a complete ‘multiracial and multicultural society’.
However, if the fear that this might be an illusion is ahead, and fears that only a ‘mobilized multicultural society’ with no immigrants will remain and dominate the world, is it false?