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Expats Complain of Religious Discrimination in Korea

Posted October. 14, 2009 05:12,   


A Muslim woman from Uzbekistan married a Korean man and moved to Korea five years ago. She prays twice a day. Graduating from an Uzbekistani university, she is fluent in Korean and this helped her land a job at a small company a few months ago. She said she quit soon after, however, as her coworkers began treating her differently after discovering she was a Muslim.

A Roman Catholic Filipino who lives in Siheung, Gyeonggi Province, must travel to Seoul’s Hyehwa district every Sunday to attend Mass. He said he hopes to go to a cathedral near his home but chooses to go to the Hyehwa Catholic Church, which attracts many Filipinos.

Many expatriates in Korea often face religious discrimination, with many Koreans said to make others with unfamiliar faiths feel uncomfortable.

Many expats also complain that their religious activities are limited in Korea, with some crying discrimination and unequal treatment because of their religions.

The Korean government has a poor grasp of the religions of expats in the country.

Kang Jae-su, an official at the religious affairs department of the Culture, Sports and Tourism Ministry, said, “We have conducted no survey of the religions of expats in Korea since we want to protect their privacy. The government has yet to launch a program to support the religious activities of expats in Korea.”

The southern Seoul suburb of Ansan in Gyeonggi Province is a city where many migrant workers live, but has no religious policies for them.

Kwon Myeoung-hwa, in charge of cultural and tourism affairs for the Ansan City Hall, said, “Since religion is a sensitive issue, government policy could result in negative side effects. Certain religious organizations still believe that Muslims are dangerous.”

Religious bodies, not the central, provincial or municipal governments, have reached out to support and communicate with expats on religion.

The Seoul Archdiocese has opened the Multicultural Home Support Center in northern Seoul to support the religious activities of foreign women married to Korean men and help them adapt to Korean culture.

At the center, Vietnamese nuns support the religious activities of people from Vietnam.

Kwak Jeong-nam, a nun at the center, said, “The Seoul Archdiocese has created a Philippine community to help Filipinos attend Mass at the Hyehwa Catholic Church. It has also helped Filipinos barter their stuff.

Branches of the Seoul Archdiocese also run support centers.

Jogye, the largest Buddhist order in the country, has established the Mahabodhi Center for Migrants in Ansan to provide Buddhist services for expats and help them settle in Korea.

The international team of Jogye’s administrative department supports temples, such as Seokwang in Bucheon, Gyeonggi Province, that are proactive in multicultural activities.