Globally Connected, Identically Insulated: Discrimination against Foreigner in South Korean Society

South Korea is experiencing an increase in being exposed to international migrations and visitors due to the wide-spread globalization of its culture, growing economy, and deepening relationships in international community. However, discrimination towards foreigners still become prevalent feature in Korean society nowadays. Discrimination occurs mainly towards Asian and African. An example is from 2014, when African expatriates were denied entry into a pub in Itaewon, Seoul, by the fear of spreading Ebola virus (Meinecke, 2016). According to the survey conducted by Overseas Koreans Foundation, nearly 61% of South Koreans do not consider foreign workers as members of Korean society (Tai, 2018). The key elements of discrimination towards non-Koreans are oftentimes based on appearance or stereotypes that revolved in Korean society (Ghazarian, 2018).

According to a professor of sociology at Sungkonghoe University, Koreans believe that Western people or white English speakers are the ‘right’ kind of foreigner, while the wrong kind would include refugees, Chinese, and even ethnic Koreans from China (Tai, 2018). The outrage of Korean racist character is triggered by the influx of Yemeni refugees in 2018. When hundreds of Yemenis entered Jeju island to seek asylum, most Koreans refused and instead, urged the government to expel the Yemeni. They accused the asylum-seeker for taking advantage of visa-free entry to Jeju in order to make more money than they could in their war-torn country. Yemeni, as well as other Middle Eastern foreigners, were also accused for carrying out sex crimes. Ignited with Islamophobes, the locals fear that Yemenis would attack or make Korea as an Islamic state. Hundreds of people organized demonstrations and signed a petition, demanding the government to force the refugees to leave (GOH, 2020).

Major contributing factor in this discriminative culture is notion of purity in ethnic bloodline that has played an important role in the historical identity of Korean people. This notion was emphasized in their national curriculum and in addition, majority of pre-service and in-service teachers in Korea presently were taught in a system that uphold pride in cultural and ethnic homogeneity. Thus, the view of the nation’s past creates the perception of a biological requisite for ‘Koreanness’ that persists in modern South Korean society. It was not until 2007, when the United Nations urged South Korea to stop promoting the racist notion, that the Korean national curriculum committee revised the curriculum to remove the emphasis on danil-minjok (single-blooded ethnicity) from history textbooks. Other than curriculum revision, the government has also made numbers of policies in embracing the multi-racial society that the state has become. Korean government made the Second Basic Plan for Immigration as the foundation for policy regarding immigration and multiculturalism. The plan includes policy reforms regarding a more liberal approach to immigration and citizenship. However, the government has not been able to make an anti-discrimination law due to the conservative Christian movement that oppose it, especially regarding sexual orientation (Tai, 2018). Thus, even though the government is trying to indicate a meaningful shift in the approach of multiculturalism, discriminatory treatment in the society is still very much prevalent, as the ethnic and cultural homogeneity still linger in the public consciousness (Ghazarian, 2018).

South Korea would face grave consequences if the xenophobe culture still persist in society. As South Korea faces tremendous increase in proportion of elderly people by 15.5 percent, also a low fertility rate that fell below one in 2019, the nation is now aging faster than any other developed economy (Herald, 2020). With more elderly than young people, best approach to invigorate and grow the population is to embrace migration (SCMP, 2019). Although the government has been trying to make easier ways for migrants to work or live in the country, if the society treat them with racism and violence (verbally or non-verbally), the environment would drive them away. if culture of discrimination spread even wider, then there will be less foreigners that are willing to visit or even work in the country that currently face lurking population time-bomb. Discriminative culture will impact not only the economy in terms of tourism, etc., but also the stained overall image of the nation by being perceived as a closed-democratic country.


Ghazarian, P. (2018). Multiculturalism in South Korea: examining government aspirations through the second basic plan for immigration. Multicultural Education Review10(1), 18-34.

GOH, D. (2020). In Korea, double standards on racism. Asia Times. Retrieved 25 May 2020, from

Herald, T. (2020). [Editorial] Aging population. Retrieved 28 May 2020, from

Meinecke, S. (2016). South Korea’s struggle with cultural diversity | DW | 24.02.2016. DW.COM. Retrieved 25 May 2020, from

Tai, C. (2018). The strange, contradictory privilege of living in South Korea as a Chinese-Canadian woman. Quartz. Retrieved 26 May 2020, from

Time for South Korea to be more open to migrants, minorities. South China Morning Post. (2019). Retrieved 26 May 2020, from

Artikel ditulis oleh: Yosephine Elizabeth Dame

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