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With Refugees

For understanding each other

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. 

For understanding each other

Micheal Angelo

Before I start I would like to thank you for reading this and giving me this precious and valuable opportunity, not to defend, but to let people know how and what my fellow refugees and I really feel and experience throughout our daily life, at work, public places and even on the street.

I, Michael Angelo, was forced to flee my country, Sudan, to South Korea about three months ago, hoping to find a better life that every human deserves. When I first got out of the airport to the city of Seoul, I was highly amazed by the architecture, especially the historical architecture and the cultural landmarks. I loved the view and told myself that everything was going to be good. 

It took me 15 minutes after that to realize it was not going to be as easy as I thought it would be, with the exact moment being  when I tried to ask a passing man to direct me to the nearest public restroom and he spoke Korean to me. Though I asked him to speak English, apparently he didn’t speak English. Language was the first obstacle I faced here in Korea. Due to the language barrier, most of the time it’s really difficult for me to communicate with people at work or at any other place, but thankfully  I’ve learned a bit of Korean to help me overcome the communication issue.

Coming from a warm desert climate, it’s very difficult to adapt to the weather here in South Korea, especially in the cold season. Although I don’t mind working at a factory and I don’t mind working at all, it’s very stressful waking up every morning and going to work in this situation. My body aches the entire 12 hours when I’m at work due to the cold and moisture, which I’m not used to back in my country. Working a minimum wage job, one might work at least 12 continuous hours a day, or half of one whole day. I only have 12 hours left to try to manage my time for bed, transportation and meals. Working for 12 hours plus sleeping for 7 to 8 hours at night leaves me with only 4 hours of free time, which I usually spend on meals and transportation and preparing myself for the next day. I’m becoming more of a machine than a human, and the routine is destroying my soul and my brain as I can’t, although I’m finally in a modern country, engage in any kind of self-development. Sometimes days and weeks pass and I can’t find time to call my mother to hear her voice and tell her how I miss her cooking especially because my sense of taste hasn’t really yet adapted to the local food. But hopefully, the glass is half full. Thankfully I’ve made some local friends lately.

I’ve lived most of my life in Sudan, Africa. Coming from a country in Africa, I wasn’t exposed to different cultures other than the typical African cultures. When I first came here, it wasn’t obvious to me that some ignorant people are racist, but since I’ve gotten a job I’ve started to realize some things as I’m socializing more and more with people from work and in public places. It’s very difficult to accuse a person of racism when you don’t share a common language with that person, but some actions are obviously racist, just by common sense, observation and sight. 

At work, working refugees tend to be treated not as equal as their other fellow workers are treated by the supervisors. Refugees especially from Africa are always dismissed late, even after our work hours are done. As most of us African refugees are working “illegally”, we can’t demand anything; once you step into the factory you should consider yourself “a man with no rights”. We are exposed to several types of abuse, even physical abuse sometimes. Faced with a huge amount of stress and humiliation, some leave work before the end of their shift, only because sometimes pride and dignity are more important than money.

Moreover, some people are lovely, but they sometimes can be nicer than they should be. Once, I went to the barber shop to cut my hair, and the barber was a nice old man. In a strange case of stereotyping and profiling, he offered me food when he first saw me coming into his shop. 

Discrimination is only one form of estrangement faced by myself and other refugees, and we face it not only in the streets but also in the workplace. I used to think it was coincidental, or that maybe we are just exceptionally valuable, hard-working individuals, but then I noticed a pattern. My friends are always among the very last to be dismissed at the end of each work day. Employers seem to believe that we have fewer reasons than other people to leave work, rendering our dismissal in a consistently timely manner unnecessary, which sheds light on the next obstacle in our tomb of exile: stereotyping and profiling.

Every time I am around my fellow countrymen in the city, as one often is in a foreign environment, I behold different accounts of suffering. Most of the time my peers feel very much like intruders. It is unusual for a day to pass without any of them being on the receiving end of a slander, or of blame for "everything that is wrong with this country" according to some.

 However, the majority of the people in South Korea are very nice in a lovely way. They are always eager to know about our cultures and our stories, and the cases mentioned previously above often happen in the workplace environment.

Through my observation and experience in life and some cultures, I noticed that people in general have much more in common than they have in difference. I hope one day we work on what brings us together and care for one another, because that is all we want. What we want to be and reach as “people”, “individuals” and as a “collective” is to be “not struggling”, and we want people to work with us collectively towards killing the struggle. 

I believe that everything you see was an idea first, and then somebody spoke about it. So when you put your ideas, feelings and thoughts into words, you put them out there in the world and they start to affect others. So I would like to thank you again for reading this and for your efforts in supporting us.

* Korean version: http://nancen.org/1694