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Koryosaram: Long Forgotten Compatriots

It has been 80 years since the Koryosaram were originally taken through the Soviet Union’s deportation system. Even though the Koryosaram are originally Korean, they live a hard life in Korea nowadays. Most people, however, do not have any concern about them or do not even know know anything about them. The Sungkyun Times (SKT) now introduces who they are, how they are treated in Korea, and suggests ways to improve our relationship with them.

Who are the Koryosaram?
Definition
According to the Academy of Korean Studies, the Koryosaram are overseas Koreans who are living in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) that formerly belonged to the Soviet Union such as Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan. In other words, they are Korean diaspora who use the Russian language.Some people misunderstand that they are the people of the Goryeo dynasty that ruled Korea from 918 to 1392, but they are in fact not related to Goryeo.

History
In 1919, many Koreans were forced to emigrate due to Japanese imperialism. Some people, especially Korean independence activists, moved to the Maritime Province of Siberia and continued their efforts to help Korea become independent. Since Japanese imperialism focused on extending their power over inland areas, the Soviet Union needed to tighten its vigilance against them.
There were, however, some difficulties for the Soviet Union in that it was hard to seek out Japanese spies since Koreans and Japanese have a similar appearance. Therefore, the growing number ofKoreans in the Soviet Union was a threat to them, and this made Stalin force deportation. Thus, from September to November in 1937, 36,442 households (171,781 people) were forcibly transferred, to poor surroundings, to countries in Central Asia.
The Koryosaram lived in Central Asia passing down rice farming technologies and went through many hardships while adapting themselves to Soviet society. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, however, countries in Central Asia became independent. Each area had fierce conflicts, and independent states declared their own language as an official language. As most of the Koryosaram were not naturalized as Russian citizens, this made the Koryosaram, who a r e o n l y a b l e t o s p e a k t h e Russian language, not only lose their jobs but also become refugees. The Koryosaram felt discriminations in the place that they had lived in for over 50 years. Therefore, they moved to Siberia or Korea, without any real promise of a future.

Koryosaram in Korea
Current State
Now, at least 22,000 Koryosaram are estimated to live in Korea.
Including non-estimated people, it might be as many as 40,000 people. The Koryosaram are people who became victims in a distinctive history of Korea because they had to move many times due to historical events such as Japanese imperialism and the deportation policy of the Soviet Union. Despite these events, the fact that there are no formal statistics shows that the Korean government is not concerned about them. Furthermore, the Koryosaram only receive civic organizations’ help because not only the central government, but also cities and provinces, lack support.
The Koryosaram who came to Korea made their village around an industrial complex to seek jobs, and most of them live in Ansan, Gwangju, and Busan. For example, Ansan is the first city where a Koryosaram village was created in Korea with more than 8,000 Koryosaram living there now. The Koryosaram living in Ansan mostly get support through a civic organization, Neomeo. The organization provides Korean education, Korean culture experiences, and operates counseling centers to help the Koryosaram adapt to life in Korea.

Linguistic Discomforts and Mental Difficulties
After spending a long time living in foreign countries, the Koryosaram have developed distinctive linguistic features. As a result, even though the Koryosaram have a similar appearance to Koreans, they feel lots of limitations due to the language barrier.On account of this, a large number of them work as temporary position workers in construction.
Moreover, the Koryosaram are experiencing diaspora trauma. According to the Oxford Dictionary, diaspora is the dispersion or spread of any people from their original homeland. In other words, the Koryosaram may feel a kind of mental fear living a nomadic life with an uncertain future. They might have looked forward to some kind of advantages such as relations with Koreans when deciding to move to Korea. Koreans, however, do not consider the Koryosaram as compatriots but as foreign workers. According to research by the Overseas Korean Foundation in 2014, 49.1% of the investigated Koryosaram thought that they felt discriminated against in Korean society, while only 17.1% of them said that they did not. In addition, one of the interviewees of the research said “Some Koreans neglected and made fun of Koryosaram due to linguistic problems. We, however, cannot do anything because we do not have proper rights in Korea.”

Insufficient Laws and Institutions
As mentioned above, there is almost no support from the Korean government for the Koryosaram. so the Koryosaram are treated poorly in compatriot society. Different from multicultural families or foreign workers, there is no department in charge of the Koryosaram, which puts them in the blind spots of immigrant policies. Although the Special Act for Koryosaram has been implemented since 2013, this is only for the stabilization of the overseas Koryosaram’s livelihood, which means the conditions of ones already living in Korea are left neglected. Therefore, the Koryosaram in Korea are treated worse than foreign workers and get no governmental aid for settlement and adaption in Korea.
According to the Korean Nationality Act, there are a few steps for foreigners to be naturalized as Koreans such as through background checks, criminal history investigations, and screening tests for naturalization. A screening test is a test that evaluates Korean ability and understanding of Korean customs, and it consists of a written examination and an interview. In the interview, however, the Koryosaram have some disadvantages since they have lived in communist nations.

Visa Problems
According to the Act on Entry and Exit and Legal Status of Overseas Koreans, the Koryosaram can enter Korea by three main means.


If the Koryosaram enter Korea with an Overseas Korean Visa, they have lots of limitations on finding jobs since they need to engage in specific types of work to gain an Overseas Korean Visa.
In addition, all of the visas have strict limits on the length of one’s visit, which should not be applied to the same nation.
The visa problem also forces the fourth generation of the Koryosaram to live far apart from their families. According to the Act on Overseas Koreans, who the Korean government considers a compatriot can be limited to a person who possessed the nationality of the Republic of Korea or a lineal descendant of a person who acquired foreign nationality, or a person whose parents or grandparents possessed the nationality of the Republic of Korea. Through this act, the Korean law limits compatriots up to the third generation of the Koryosaram. In other words, the fourth generation cannot stay in Korea except in the case they continuously gain visa status. For example, an 18-year-old girl living in Ansan came to her grandfather’s country, Korea, from Uzbekistan three years ago. She, however, must return to Uzbekistan next year because her mother who is a third generation Koryosaram came to Korea under the Work and Visit Visa (H-2). The limited visa system allows the girl to stay in Korea until she becomes 19. It shows that the fourth generation Koryosaram are not compatriots but foreigners under the current law.

Efforts made for the Koryosaram
The case of the Koryosaram is one of the distinctive problems derived from Korean history. Moreover, they are not foreigners, but Korean people and descendants of Korean independence activists. This fact gives us responsibility to put more effort into the Koryosaram’s adaption in Korea.

National Commission of Koryosaram Deportation 80 Years
Last April, the National Commission of Koryosaram Disportation 80 Years was founded to help the Koryosaram become stable in Korea and improve their rights. They are planning to revise the Special Act for Koryosaram to provide more extensive support, enact an ordinance for the Koryosaram, and collect historical records of migrant Koryosaram families. They met the director of the headquarters of election measures of The Minjoo party to convey policy proposals in May. In addition, on September 17, they are going to hold a mass meeting of the Koryosaram to convey condolences to families of the deported victims and to regain their honor.

Ways to Go Forward
Gwangju-si legislated a municipal ordinance for the Koryosaram to accept the demand of the Gwangju Koryosaram Village in 2013. It created an integration support center for Koryosaram residents which manages a Korean language institute, daycare center, and local child center. Like this, the government and cities should take steps to revise the bill beyond civic organizations.The revised bill and budget planning for the Koryosaram can lend weight to their argument.
Events and activities that are operated by civic organizations for the Koryosaram are their own activities. If there are some opportunities that general Koreans can participate in, valuable chances to communicate with each other can be provided. For example, language exchange activities where the Koryosaram and general Koreans teach each other and volunteer work in Koryosaram Village can be good ways. Besides, general Koreans must prepare to grant the Koryosaram as people of the Korea since general Koreans and the Koryosaram had no choice but to live apart due to external factors. Through these efforts to accept the Koryosaram as members of Korean society, they can begin to overcome diaspora trauma and recover their true national identities.

From forced migration to Siberia because of Japanese imperialism, migration to Central Asia because of the Soviet Union, and to migration to Korea, the Koryosaram had to live a nomadic life, repeatedly moving. Now, it is time for Korean society to help those who came to Korea with the dream of jobs and settlement, wishing to put their roots back down in Korea.

김수진  sujintwelve@naver.com

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