SEOUL (AFP) – The UN’s top expert on racism outlined Monday “serious problems” faced by migrant workers and foreign marriage partners in South Korea, ranging from discriminatory exploitation and maltreatment to racist verbal abuse.
Following a week-long mission to Asia’s fourth largest economy, during which requested meetings with ministers failed to materialise, UN Special Rapporteur Mutuma Ruteere said it was clear South Korea faced challenges related to its growing foreign community.
He called for better education, improved legislation – particularly on employment – and steps to ensure the media avoided “racist and xenophobic stereotypes.”
One of Asia’s most ethnically homogenous societies, South Korea has a small but rising foreign population which has not always been made to feel welcome.
Some complaints focus on examples of racial insensitivity, such as performers wearing black-face on TV, or recent advertising for a new cigarette brand “This Africa” which featured chimpanzees dressed as a news anchor and a news reporter.
Others voice direct experience of overt discrimination, particularly migrant workers hired as low-paid, unskilled manual labourers.
Ruteere highlighted the plight of migrant workers in the agriculture and fishing sectors, who suffer tough working and living conditions, and generally work longer hours for less pay than their Korean counterparts.
As well as being denied their entitled share of the catch, non-Korean fishermen are “often subjected to racist and xenophobic verbal and physical abuse by ship owners and captains,” he told a press briefing at the end of his visit.