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Animosity against English teachers in Seoul

As South Korea climbs the economic ladder, the presence of foreigners is growing — and so are complicated reactions to them.

However, discrimination has been more of an issue for migrant workers from Southeast Asian countries or Chinese ethnic Koreans working in the country. Amnesty International last year called on the country to protect migrant workers saying that they are “exposed to abusive work conditions including discrimination, verbal and physical abuse,” according to a statement posted to their website.

Last year, the country saw its first citizen convicted for making racist comments to a professor from India, while using public transportation. The offender was slapped with a fine for hurling slurs such as “Arabs are dirty,” at the scholar. Lawmakers have since drafted legislation related to racial discrimination but have yet to pass the bill.

Analysts point out that deeply embedded in the Korean psyche is the belief that all Koreans are from a single bloodline — something that could become problematic for a country with a rising foreign population.

ATEK’s Bean believes the local press coverage is biased when it comes to news related to English teachers. Drug use, sexual crimes and violence are some of the dominant issues that have made headlines in the country about foreign English teachers.

The number of arrested English teachers who are on employer-sponsored visas was at 114 in 2007 and 99 in 2008, according to local Yonhap News Agency, citing data provided by lawmaker Lee Koon-hyon from the ruling Grand National Party. However, these numbers are merely near the 0.5 percent range of the sponsored teachers in the country.

It is still those small numbers that Yi’s online group is after.

“We’re not trying to say all those with English-teaching-visas are criminals,” Yi said. When asked whether his activities, which include tailing teachers in question to find evidence, could be seen as invasive, Yi said his group is simply addressing blind spots in the law enforcement.

Postings from the past on the Citizens of Right Education, Yi admits, have contained racist remarks. However, the leader said inappropriate content has been removed and that he consistently monitors postings to ensure they don’t include racist content.

Yi said that most of the members of Citizens of Right Education are concerned parents, and he asks foreign teachers to try to see things from their point of view. His group will try to do the same, he added.