We are looking for essay writers who will help promote the awareness of refugee rights in Korea. NANCEN wants to let the voice of refugees heard as they want to be heard in Korea society. We wish Koreans could come to understand that refugees are not to be feared or pitied. If you are interested in this project, please contact to refucenter@gmail.com, Ku. 

Betsnat’s Life in South Korea


I, Betsnat, am an Ethiopian who has lived in South Korea for the last 7 years. Below is a brief account of my life here in Korea.

First of all, before I came to Korea, I did not expect that Korea was such a prosperous country. Once I arrived here and learned how hardworking the people are and how in a single generation they transformed their country into a developed nation, I was really impressed and developed a high level of respect for the citizens. Looking every day at the dedication and perseverance of Korean people of different ages, young and old, has been very impressive. Inside myself, I’ve strongly hoped that, one day, my beloved country also would have responsible leaders who could follow Korea’s example to transform the current tyrannical regime into a real democracy, where the citizens enjoy basic human rights; think and speak freely, without fear of intimidation, for the sake of political dissent; and exploit the wealth of our natural resources and human power for the development of the country.

When I started interacting with Koreans and I told them that I am from Ethiopia, I was surprised at their different perceptions of my country. Some knew very well about the history of thousands of patriotic Ethiopians who died or were wounded while joining hands with other nations to assist South Korea during the North Korean invasion of the 1950s. Other Koreans who had no knowledge of Ethiopia’s thousands of years of rich culture and history, or who only knew of the country’s bad international image, which includes famine and civil war under the tyrannical regimes of the past 3 decades, usually showed an unpleasant facial expression when learning about my nationality. Still others did not know at all where on the planet Ethiopia exists.

Coming back to my story, Korea has been a good shelter for people like me who would face danger if they were to go back to their own country just because of a different political opinion. However, my life in Korea has also had several challenges, which I will list below just for the sake of improving the understanding of the Korean government and other responsible parties about living situations and some challenges faced by foreigners living in South Korea, so as to help them devise ways to alleviate those challenges, and at the end of the day to further build Korea’s international image as a great place to live for people from different nations.

First, I came to Korea with a family visa. My spouse was a graduate student here. And as her dependent, the immigration system could not allow me to join the workforce. I wished that rather than sitting idle at home for long hours, I could have developed cultural experience, Korean language skills, and also gained additional income for family if the system had provided full- or part-time work permits for people like me.

Second, the most important challenges I have faced have been after I applied for refugee status in Korea, following the worsening of situations in Ethiopia that would jeopardize my safety if I were to return. I will list them as follows.

  1. From my own experience, there are a lot of things that need improvement at the immigration offices in Korea about the way they handle asylum seekers. As foreigners, many asylum seekers have language and cultural barriers, which should be better understood by the officers. There were instances in my own case where these gaps led to misunderstanding and I faced mistreatment and an inability to voice my opinion during the interview process. In addition to that, even though the immigration law includes provisions and benefits for asylum applicants, there were instances where these could not be seen in practice.

  2.  Next, as an asylum seeker, you have trouble getting affordable healthcare. There are no free or affordable healthcare providers, and if for some reason you cannot obtain employment, you are not even allowed to buy your own health insurance. This is an especially big challenge for asylum seekers like me who have a Korean-born child/children and cannot obtain basic healthcare for their babies or even buy their own health insurance due to lack of employment.

  3. There are also employer-related challenges. I have been employed on and off in different private companies. Even though you work very hard and for long hours, often there are problems getting paid on time and getting paid in full. There are even instances where one can lose weeks’ or even months’ worth of wages and end up leaving a company, hoping for a better situation in another company. I sincerely hope that the government will look into and improve these common unfair practices in private companies.

With all this being said, I am very grateful for organizations like Save the Children and NANCEN, which, in their capacity, have been doing an outstanding job helping alleviate those challenges faced by asylum seekers and their families.

*Korean versionhttp://nancen.org/1687

Posted by 난민인권센터