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Expert Urges Republic of Korea to Protect Migrants

Independent UN Rights Expert Urges Republic of Korea to Protect Migrants, Foreign Wives

New York, Dec 11 2006 5:00PM

An independent United Nations rights expert today called on the Republic of Korea to take further steps to expand the rights of foreign wives of its nationals and voiced concern over discriminatory measures against migrants.

“Many foreign wives unable to understand the South Korean language remain stranded in rural areas,” the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants Jorge Bustamante said in a statement in Seoul, the capital, at the end of a five-day visit, noting that their legal rights, including residency permits, child custody and divorce even in cases of domestic violence, depend solely on their husbands’ consent.

“In many cases, these women faced severe racial discrimination, emotional and physical abuse, depression and maltreatment. Significant language and cultural barriers make their social integration very difficult and kept them unaware of their rights,” he added, even as he welcomed certain improvements.

“So far no legislation or policies had been sufficiently established in Korea to provide protection for these women. In their meetings with the Special Rapporteur foreign wives who had run away from abusive husbands shared their worries about their future due to their precarious or nonexistent residency status,” he noted.

He stressed that the rapid increase in mixed marriages means Korean society as a whole, including Government agencies, civil society and the local population, needs to collectively show more comprehension, support and friendship to these foreign wives.

But he commended steps taken by the Government to redress the powerlessness of foreign wives by establishing integration and insertion programmes especially in rural areas. However these were still at a nascent stage having begun only in 2005 and needed to be expanded at a larger and faster scale as the main problems faced by mixed couples were language and the wives’ lack of access to language training.

On migrant workers Mr. Bustamante noted that the Government has tried to increase their protection by drafting the Employment Permit for Migrant Workers Act. But he voiced concern about certain aspects of the Act, most notably the fact that it only grants migrant workers a legal status for a non-renewable three years, meaning those affected would remain vulnerable within the Korean community.

Some migrants have been in the country for more than 10 years without any steps being taken to regularize them, he noted. As a result they have not been able to reunite with their families. Even when their families were staying with them in the country, they were deprived access to basic facilities.

Special Rapporteurs are unpaid, independent experts who report to the UN Human Rights Council.


ENDS

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