New year brings new hope to the Kurds living in Korea
by Kim Hae-noon, JoongAng Daily, Korea, 2003.04.21
They are a people without a country, who fled persecution in their homelands in the Middle East, coming to Korea in hopes of better economic times and a better life. Now many of the 1,500 Kurds who live in Korea are calling on the government and the people here for their support and aid.
Yesterday, 10 Kurds gathered at the Dongnimmun Independence Park in western Seoul to publicize their people's plight and to celebrate Newroz, the Kurdish new year, albeit belatedly. "It has been difficult to gather them together because most of them have expired visas," said Lee Man-yong, the event organizer a history professor at Sookmyung Women's University.
Such is the life of illegal foreign laborers in Korea. "About three or four Kurds from Iraq and Syria have applied for refugee status," said Abraham Lee, the representative for the refugees. "However the government has not approved any of them. This is not appropriate for Korea, which is an executive committee member of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.
Even though it was raining while they celebrated Newroz, more than 20 passers-by and local residents stopped to listen to the Kurds' message and to share in the Kurdish food and wine laid out for all.
Most of these Kurds came to Korea about six or seven years ago, running away from persecution in Iraq, Iran, Syria, or Turkey.
The recent overthrow of the Iraqi government has brought mixed feelings to the Kurds. "I am really concerned about my family in Iraq," said Rama Sala, a 38-year old factory worker in Incheon who came to Korea in 1996. "My fellow countrymen have suffered from Saddam Hussein's oppression for a long time.
But the Kurds here are also concerned about the unstable conditions their families are now living through. "We supported the United States's strike against Iraq to be liberated from Saddam Hussein," said a man who would identify himself only as Simco. "But people over there are scared that the United States might turn their back against us, and that Turkey, who helped the allied forces, might intrude and take over our territory and our people."
"About 30 million Kurdish people are wandering around the world," said Lee the history professor. "They have 2,000 years of history but they have never had their own nation."