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How Afghan evacuees are preparing for life in Korea

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Afghan children attend a taekwondo class on a playing field at the Leadership Campus of the National Human Resources Development Institute in Jincheon, North Chungcheong Province, Wednesday. They arrived in Korea with their parents in late August when the Korean government evacuated Afghans who had worked with the Korean government after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan. Joint Press Corps
Afghan children attend a taekwondo class on a playing field at the Leadership Campus of the National Human Resources Development Institute in Jincheon, North Chungcheong Province, Wednesday. They arrived in Korea with their parents in late August when the Korean government evacuated Afghans who had worked with the Korean government after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan. Joint Press Corps

'Special contributors' learn language, basic living info about Korea

By Lee Hyo-jin

JINCHEON ― For a 13-year-old Afghan girl, learning taekwondo in Korea brings her a feeling of freedom that she was unable to experience back in her home country.

"In Afghanistan, women cannot participate in sports freely like men do, so it's satisfying to attend taekwondo classes with boys, without wearing a hijab," the girl told reporters after a taekwondo class on Wednesday.

A 15-year-old boy who also attends the class said, "There was always war going on in Afghanistan ever since I was born. But now I feel safe in Korea. I feel confident and hopeful about my future."

The two children are among the 391 Afghan evacuees ― 156 adults and 235 children ― who have been staying at the Leadership Campus of the National Human Resources Development Institute in Jincheon, North Chungcheong Province, since entering Korea starting at the end of August in a miraculous escape from their homeland which has been retaken by the Taliban.

The evacuees who had helped the Korean government's activities in Afghanistan were granted the status of "special contributors," along with their families.

During media interviews organized by the Ministry of Justice, the Afghans staying at the rural county about 100 kilometers from Seoul said they were "safe and grateful" and expressed hopes for a stable life after they are released from the center.

"All our family members are happy here. Everything is great. The Korean government is even providing us medical services. Our children are playing every day and we are participating in Korean classes," said an Afghan man in his 40s, who used to work at Bagram Korean Hospital.

"I hope to settle well with my family here. I am thankful to Korea and its people for their support," said a woman in her 20s who used to work at the Korean embassy.

The justice ministry is providing them with a social integration program including classes on Korean language, culture, basic laws and other essential information needed in daily life, such as recycling regulations and banking systems.

The children are going through emotional stability programs in cooperation with the regional education office and the International Education Institute in the province, as well as taekwondo classes in cooperation with the Taekwondo Promotion Foundation.

"The goal of these programs is to provide aid for them to lead an independent life as responsible members of society," said Ha Young-kook, ministry director of the Immigrant Integration Division.

Ha explained that the Afghans have learnt the Korean alphabet and basic greetings through the Level 0 course of the social integration program. "Earlier this week, they began the Level 1 course, after which they would be able to construct simple sentences and engage in basic communication."

Afghan evacuees speak with reporters during an interview session organized by the Ministry of Justice at the National Human Resources Development Institute in Jincheon, North Chungcheong Province, Wednesday. Korea Times photo by Lee Hyo-jin
Afghan evacuees speak with reporters during an interview session organized by the Ministry of Justice at the National Human Resources Development Institute in Jincheon, North Chungcheong Province, Wednesday. Korea Times photo by Lee Hyo-jin

He added that the government plans to grant the evacuees with F-2 long-term residency visas after their temporary stay period ends in about four months.

When asked about their evacuation from Kabul, the Afghans said the military code name "Operation Miracle" was apt, as the escape was literally a miracle.

"I can say we risked our lives to get to the airport. Only three days after the departure, the explosion happened (at the airport)," said a woman in her 20s.

According to Yun Yeon-han, a social integration program instructor, the Afghan men are very interested in employment issues. "They frequently ask questions on employment options, wages, housing costs and even labor laws, which I think reflects their responsibility as breadwinners."

Regarding their plans after the temporary stay period, a man in his 30s who used to work in a provincial reconstruction team in Charikar said, "Settling down in Korea will not be easy for a person who has grown up in a different country. We came from a developing country to a much-developed country."

He added, "It's in our own efforts. If we work hard, hopefully we will be able to solve all the problems we will be facing in the future step by step."

Afghan evacuees participate in outdoor activities at the Leadership Campus of the National Human Resources Development Institute in Jincheon, North Chungcheong Province, Wednesday. Joint Press Corps
Afghan evacuees participate in outdoor activities at the Leadership Campus of the National Human Resources Development Institute in Jincheon, North Chungcheong Province, Wednesday. Joint Press Corps
Lee Hyo-jin lhj@koreatimes.co.kr


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