Afghan evacuees share joys of new life

Afghan evacuees arriving at Incheon International Airport in South Korea in August. — AFP

CLAD in a taekwondo uniform, a 13-year-old Afghan girl says she is happy with her newfound freedom in South Korea. She can participate in all sorts of social activities that had been limited only to boys in her home country.

“I want to learn Korean and work here,” she tells reporters at a press briefing organised by the South Korean Justice Ministry on Oct 13.

Another evacuee, a 15-year-old boy, hopes to make South Korea his new home, saying he now feels secure: “If I can get permanent residency, I want to think of [South Korea] as my country and live by helping Koreans,” he says.

Another 15-year-old boy wants to learn Korean, go to university and become a doctor to “help Koreans”.

On Wednesday, the three teenagers housed at a government facility in Jincheon, North Chungcheong Province, shared stories about beginning a new chapter in their lives after being resettled there.

The three, who asked for anonymity for safety reasons, are among 391 people – comprising 156 adults, 195 children and 40 infants and toddlers – who travelled to South Korea on Aug 26. The Korean government flew them out of Afghanistan over fears of Taliban retaliation, as they had worked on South Korean projects in the war-torn country.

During their six-month stay at the National HRD Institute in Jincheon, the government will provide programmes on integrating into Korean society that will help them to support themselves. They will cover a wide range of topics, from the Korean language, local etiquette and community rules such as recycling, to consumer policies and gender equality.

The Afghans have received long-term residence visas (F-1). After their adjustment period ends, the government plans to issue F-2 visas that will permit them to work in South Korea so they can become self-reliant. However, the law needs to be revised to grant this visa status, and such preparations are already underway.

One instructor in charge of social integration says husbands and wives are taught separately because they have different interests: “Husbands showed a lot of interest in Korea’s economic policies, wage levels, jobs and apartment prices. Wives were very curious about parenting policies,” she says.

An Afghan man, 36, says he and his fellow refugees know that settling down in South Korea will not be easy due to the differences in the economies and cultures of the two nations. But he says they will work hard to fit in.

“With the support of the Korean government and the Ministry [of] justice, we will work hard to settle here properly. If we work hard, we can solve all the problems we will face in the future.”

A woman in her 20s says she sees similarities between Afgha-nistan and Korean culture. Both value family and respect the elderly, she says. Both nations also have a culture of taking off their shoes when entering the house.

“(This is) something simple but it makes us feel at home. Actually, it’s something we have to be worried about. If we visit our friend’s house, we are concerned about what to do and what not to do.”

For many of them, there has not been any big culture shock because they had worked with South Korean government institutions, like hospitals and the embassy, for long periods in Afghanistan.

They also praise the South Korean government’s evacuation operation, saying not all countries could fly their helpers out of Afghanistan.

“Some of them are still living in a terrible situation in Afghanistan. Some countries like Japan, they were not able to evacuate even one person. But South Korea evacuated all of its members because they played a very good leadership role in terms of coordination with the international forces,” one Afghan says.

“Although there were some difficulties as the Taliban was preventing our progress, the overall evacuation process was very well done and we appreciate that.

“The word ‘miracle’ is the perfect name [for the evacuation].” – The Korean Herald/Asia News Network

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