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2007/10/25 16:09 KST
(News Focus) Growing foreign population turns Korea into multiracial society

   By Yoo Cheong-mo
SEOUL, Oct. 25 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's growing foreign population, which topped the landmark 1 million mark in late August, is rapidly familiarizing South Koreans with the way of life in multiracial and multicultural societies.

   Foreigners are increasingly ubiquitous in subways, restaurants, neighborhood parks, streets and other areas nationwide. The 1 million foreigners, including 720,000 residents, represent approximately 2 percent of the entire South Korean population.

   Reflecting the trend, foreign communities are springing up across Korea, including a French community in Seoul's Bangbae-dong, "Little Tokyo" in Seoul's Ichon-dong and the so-called Central Asian Village in Seoul's Dongdaemun market area frequented by Korea's increasingly large population of Central Asian and Russian immigrants.

   In addition, a number of foreign districts have recently been established in locations close to industrial complexes, such as Guro in Seoul and Banwol in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province, as more and more foreigners, mostly from China and Southeast Asian countries, come to Korea in search of their "Korean dream." Korean-Chinese workers are concentrated in Guro's "Yanbian Street" and Nigerians can be spotted on Itaewon's "Nigerian Street."
A Nepalese street has emerged in Seoul's Changshin-dong, while Filipino workers regularly flock around a cathedral in Hyehwa-dong in downtown Seoul on Sundays.

   In Seoul's Central Asian town, signboards of restaurants, fried chicken houses, cafes and video shops are all written in Russian. Every weekend, the area draws citizens of Mongolia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan who come from their homes in Ansan, Guro, Namyangju and other industrial suburbs to shop, eat, drink and catch up on news from home. Mixed into the crowd are adventurous Koreans or Western tourists looking to sample exotic Silk Road cuisines.

   In the countryside, foreign brides, mostly from Vietnam, China and the Philippines, have emerged as essential members of agricultural households. According to government figures, one out of every four men in rural areas is married to a foreign woman. Reflecting the trend, an increasing number of provincial and county governments are holding Korean language and cooking classes for foreign wives.

   The 1 million foreigners come from over 40 countries. Given Korea's ethnically homogenous nature, such a multiracial society is a new and enormous challenge to most Koreans.

   According to data released by the Justice Ministry, the total number of foreigners living in South Korea, including illegal migrant workers, reached 1,018,036 as of the end of September, with ethnic Chinese accounting for 463,215, or 45.5 percent, followed by Americans (115,204), Vietnamese (67,117), Filipinos (51,052), Thais (43,945), Japanese (37,254), Mongolians (31,713) and Indonesians (25,969).

   "The foreign population in Korea has grown by approximately 100,000 persons a year over the past decade. The expatriates here totaled just 269,641 in 1995 and 491,324 in 2000," said a ministry official.

   "Notably, about 65 percent of the foreigners live in the Seoul metropolitan area. By 2010, the foreign community is expected to swell to 1.4 million, accounting for 2.84 percent of the entire Korean population," the official said.

   The official also said the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae held the second government meeting on Thursday to discuss new policy measures to help remove inconveniences for foreigners here and improve the human rights and welfare of expatriate manual workers.