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Life with my two kids as humanitarian visas holders in Seoul
-Life as a refugee applicant
Introduction It has been more than 10 years of stay in Seoul. I first came to Korea in 2004 for the purpose of studying, which I successfully completed. I got a bachelor’s degree in social welfare in 2008, and that same year I joined graduate school of international studies, where I obtained a master’s degree in international cooperation in 2010. I married in 2010 and had my first child here in Seoul, who is 8 years old now (Korean age).
Life as a refugee applicant I reported my family case to the immigration office in 2015 under the guidance of NANCEN, and the case was positively considered. By then my son was less than a year old, so I couldn’t work and didn’t have any source of income to support our living. I requested help from the immigration office, and only the baby was accepted for help - we received 400,000 won for him for the first six months of our refugee application. I was so grateful, but the amount was not enough to cover our living expenses.
My daughter had to quit school because I just couldn’t support her, and at night I tried locking them in the house to go work to at least get something to keep us going. There was packaging work with the post office that hired anyone according to the number of people needed who could do the job through the night. I remember I had to leave the house at 5 p.m. and be back at 10 a.m. the next day, with a five-month-old baby in the house taken care with his sister who was only five years old! Luckily, some days after attempting the work, a lady saw me with a very wet chest and noticed that I was a breastfeeding mother. She spoke to me and provided some information about an immigrant center.
I moved with my kids to the women’s immigrant center. It was indeed a big help because we were provided with shelter and meals. We lived there for nearly a year. But as the days went on I got more stressed as I couldn’t see any hope for my kids’ future, and there was no means to send my daughter back to school. Both of them were just with me 24 hours a day. My daughter had been fluent in Korean, but because of that period of missing school she also lost all her Korean, and was behaving like a baby because at the center there were only kids younger than her.
After six months from the date of our refugee application, the support my son was receiving ended and life got more stressful. I had no job yet, and at the center we were only offered basic meals and shelter, so to deal with the baby was not easy. I contacted NANCEN, and thank God we got financial help. Some months later, in early March 2016, I got a job with a sewing factory. That same month we were asked to leave the center. All the migrant women receive 2,000,000 won each from the center as housing key money, which we have to refund within a period of 3-4 months.
Well, since then I’ve kept working at the sewing factory, though the job is really demanding physically and has caused me some health issues! My kids got admitted to a kindergarten under the education support of NANCEN.
I am so much thankful to the Korean government for giving my family permission to stay. I can’t imagine if we had been sent back to Tanzania. I am not sure if I could have survived and what could have happened to my kids...! I am really grateful and will always be, and despite the hardships I am facing, life with my family is peaceful here.
Now I am writing to share my story with the Korean community and the government with the hope of changes someday in terms of social support for people like me. So, in the next essay, I am going to briefly explain things like kids’ education, health and job opportunities for humanitarian visa holders.
1. Kids’ education I am glad that my kids are in school now, but I wonder what will happen if the support they receive from NANCEN ends. Does it mean my kids will not go to school, because they don’t receive help from the government?! Yes, they are Tanzanian by blood, but to me according to their life story they are stateless, belonging nowhere and looking for a helping hand so they can grow up just like any other kid to develop our world of tomorrow.
Refer to the pictures here below - my son at school and my daughter’s graduation from kindergarten! The pictures show progress in their education because of the support they receive from NANCEN.
Early this year my daughter began elementary school. With the help of NANCEN I am able to pay the fee for a nursery room, where she stays after school because she cannot go home right away and be alone until night when I am back from work. So, I manage to pay for her to be in that nursery room until 5 p.m. And then she goes home, where she is alone for 3 hours before I am back from work. She cries when it is time for her to leave the nursery room, telling her teacher, “I am alone at home. I don’t want to go...” The nursery teacher advised me to visit the local government to ask if she could be allowed to stay in the nursery room until 8 p.m. without additional payment.
When I visited the local government, gosh! I was sent away like a street dog! It’s where we also have to buy stamps to throw away something large, but since then I am so scared to show my face there. I’ve had a TV to throw away for months now, but I’m still thinking of a way to go buy a stamp there... To be frank, I never knew Koreans could be mean; for all the years I’ve lived here, Koreans are more than a family to me. But in that office I was really shocked considering the fact that it’s even a government office! Perhaps it was due to my poor Korean! 2. Health When it comes to the issue of health, it is again a problem for my family. Humanitarian holders are not given health insurance, and poor living means being more prone to illness.
I faced health emergencies three times: twice with my son and once with my daughter. I called 119 and we were taken to a big hospital, and all the cases happened when I had no money at all in my account. But thanks to the Korean system, in an emergency case you are not asked to make a payment until the patient is attended to!
My daughter suffered from hand and foot disease, which affected her hands and feet so badly since I couldn’t take her to the hospital earlier due to the lack of money. Later on when I got paid at work, I had to spend even more as she had to see the dermatologist. Life without health insurance with children is not easy, especially when one has a precarious job. 3. Jobs opportunities Finding a professional job is almost impossible, regardless of doing all my studies here in Seoul. My Korean is not good enough. I cannot write in Korean, and some jobs don’t accept my visa though I try to show the work permit. It is for these reasons that I am holding on to the job at the sewing factory, though it hurts and is stressful. I work for too many hours compared to what I get paid at the end of the month, and the work is not guaranteed - I can be asked to stop at any time. Sometimes we don’t have work for a month or sewing jobs are seasonal. During the course of the work, I had a problem with my nose and used a lot of money to get it treated. Now again I am having trouble with my back and stomach, and my heart beats fast at times. I am worried, but what should I do? Do I have an alternative??
You know what this all means: you study with a lot of struggles during college, but by the end of the day you can’t get a job only because you have a humanitarian visa that’s not acceptable for job opportunities or because your Korean is not good enough to work! How I wish I could work on my career even at a low salary, seeing myself really doing something. Is there a way that I can learn Korean and get employed? How will I ever get out of this situation? These are the questions I ask myself every night...
Additionally, housing is something that I would like to mention. No money means no home. I spend more money on health out of what I get paid at work, so it is just too difficult to raise key money for a good home. Our home is just manageable. I won’t go into the details of it; I’m only writing to the reader to ask if there is a way forward for it. As humanitarian visas holders, how do we get a home? How do we go about the issue of key money?? Conclusion Korea is really becoming a multicultural country. We don’t feel the difference as foreigners as we used to before. I was so worried about my daughter in school, but she is doing very fine, just like any other kid in school. No one is pointing a finger at us even though we are the only blacks in our area. It is a very big difference from when I first came to Korea.
The only challenge we are facing now is the issue of social support, as humanitarian visas holders are given very limited opportunities. Things like employment, education, health and securing a home are not considered by the government.
But I thank the government for giving us permission to stay, and thank organizations like NANCEN for the kind support for the development of my kids.
* Korean version : http://nancen.org/1736
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