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Special Summer for Children of Illegal Migrant Workers

Posted August. 13, 2005 03:06,   


Jamsrang, an 11-year-old Mongolian boy who came to Korea last year, does not know what a “vacation” is like.

Every day, Jamsrang’s mother went to work at a factory even before he woke up, and came back home late at night. Jamsrang, for whom watching television was the only amusement, has never dreamed of going on a picnic with his mother. Considering that he lived apart for several years with his mother, who had come to Korea in 1999, he even felt grateful for the very fact that his mother was living with him.

These days, however, Jamsrang bursts into tears whenever somebody mentions the word “mother.” His mother, who was under the status of an illegal migrant worker, was forced out of Korea in May when she was caught by regulation authorities. His mother promised him that she’d “come back soon,” but accepting that he was left alone is too much a burden for an 11-year-old.

That boy, Jamsrang, went on a “summer vacation” with his friends for the first time in his life.

On August 11, Jamsrang and his friends took part in “Rafting of Hope 2005,” which was held in the upper stream of Naerin-cheon, Gosa-ri, Inje-eup, Inje-gun, Gangwon Province. The event, designed for children of immigrant workers, was hosted by “Sarangbat,” a social service group, and sponsored by “Leisures,” a leisure event agency.

Gathered in Naerin-cheon on this day were some 90 students, aged from eight to 19, from Seongdong Migrant Workers’ Center, Bucheon Migrant Workers’ Center, Mongol School in Korea where Jamsrang attends, and well as other groups. Except for some Uzbek and Peruvian children, virtually all children were Mongols.

Meeting strangers in an unfamiliar place, Jamsrang rarely smiled at first. He wished, “If only I were with my mother,” but he fought back his tears, looking at Ilhimbayar (16) by his side. Ilhimbayar also had a hard time after his father was forced to leave the country last year, but he even took care of little Jamsrang.

The other elder boys and girls were all alike in that they wore a stern look. Like their parents, most of these kids themselves are under the status of “illegal residents,” whose short-term visas expired, so they were afraid of being in an unfamiliar environment.

“Direct raids on children illegally staying in Korea have been suspended since March 2002, when these kids were allowed to go to school here. In many cases, however, young illegal residents are forced out of the country even for a slight violation of the law, for which Korean children might simply be issued a dismissal with caution. This is why many kids are still feeling sensitive,” said Regional Welfare Manager Lee Eun-ha of the Seongdong Migrant Workers’ Center.

The stern and cold looks of the children changed when they went into Naerin-cheon and started warming up. They felt the warm hearts of the instructors who sincerely took care of them, saying, “You should be careful as it is raining now.” Even Ambat (15), who had been looking the other way, burst into laughter when an instructor played a friendly trick on him by splashing water on his face.

“Kids immediately see who likes them and who does not,” said Borma (49), the principal of the Mongol School in Korea. “These children initially think all Koreans hate them, but they soon become nicer if you take a little care of them.”

On the bus heading back to Seoul in the late evening, Jamsrang fell into a good sleep for the first time in years. As if he met his mother in his dream, he was wearing a smile on his face.

Yang-Hwan Jung ray@donga.com