Home, education, jobs on minds of Afghan evacuees in Korea

한겨레 입력 2021. 9. 14. 18:06 수정 2021. 9. 14. 18:16
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The Ministry of Justice has started educational and sports activities for the Afghan children, and plans to help the Afghan collaborators adjust to life and Korea find jobs that match their areas of expertise
Children of Afghan special collaborators play outside on Monday after finishing their quarantine at the National Human Resources Development Institute in Jincheon, North Chungcheong Province. (pool photo)

Twenty or so children were kicking around a soccer ball on a grassy field as small groups of people walked around the track along its edge. When I gave the children a thumbs-up, I got a big smile in return.

While the scene was similar to what you’d find at any other Korean park, the people here are Afghans who used to work for the Korean government. Just one month ago, they were in peril of losing their lives after the Taliban retook Afghanistan. These Afghans were evacuated to Korea on Aug. 26 for their contributions to the government.

On Monday, I visited the National Human Resources Development Institute in Jincheon, North Chungcheong Province, where the Afghans evacuees are temporarily staying. It was the third day they were allowed to leave their rooms following two weeks of quarantine to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The Afghans at the institute are allowed to spend an hour outside every day on the sports field, which has an area of 10,000 square meters. I’m told that’s their favorite part of the day.

“People are bound to feel a little antsy since they’re in the dormitory all the time. That’s why we look forward to spending an hour outside. We encourage each other to hang in there since we’ll only be here for a little while,” said an Afghan who is volunteering as an interpreter.

The kids are especially fond of football, which is provided through four programs organized by age and gender. Girls account for 22 of the 65 people taking part in the football programs.

The kids are being taught by Lee Seong-je, 53, who served as coach of the Afghan Olympic soccer team for ten years.

“When I went to Afghanistan not long after the 9/11 terror attacks, I didn’t see girls playing football. I was surprised when so many girls signed up for the football team. I hope some of the better players can get connected with football teams here,” Lee said.

The Ministry of Justice is also planning to launch a taekwondo program sometime next week.

The Afghans at the institute remain worried about their friends and relatives back in Afghanistan.

“I’ve been in touch with relatives through messaging applications, but those of us without mobile phones haven’t been able to talk to relatives back home,” said a 37-year-old Afghan national who used to teach at Korea’s vocational training center.

“I spoke against the Taliban in a lot of media interviews back in Afghanistan, and I hear that [the Taliban] came to my house,” they said.

The Afghans can’t help but worry about their future, as well. Their biggest concerns are education for their children and jobs for themselves.

“I hope we get some help with education. I hope we can find jobs that match our experience,” the former teacher said.

After two weeks of basic programs at Jincheon, including health checkups, the Ministry of Justice plans to launch its main program on Sept. 23 to help the Afghans adjust to life in Korea. The ministry will provide priority medical care to seven pregnant Afghans, including two who are close to their due dates.

“We will provide age-appropriate education to minors, who account for more than 60 percent of the Afghans, in consultation with the Ministry of Education,” said Yu Bok-ryeol, an official at the Ministry of Justice.

Since the Afghan nationals are experts in various areas, including medical care, the Ministry plans to help them find jobs where they can make use of their personal expertise.

By Lee Seung-wook, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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