▲ Members of Jeju's Filipino community during a visit to Jeju April 3rd Peace Park.Photo courtesy Jennifer Tadle
“Sometimes someone will just call me and cry. Let the feeling burst out because it is so suffocating for them.”
Jennifer Tadle receives many such calls for help while counseling her Filipino countrywomen, migrants to Jeju Island. She supports both marriage migrants and migrant workers, helping them to tackle the challenges they face and becoming a trusted and attentive ear — and sometimes a shoulder to cry on.
Although not a trained counsellor, Tadle gained community trust while completing her MA in Integration research thesis at Jeju National University. She now works with Filipino Community in Jeju (FilCom Jeju), an island-wide alliance of migrant groups which supplements provincial support structures such as at the multicultural centers.
Jeju has seen its international population almost double to 15,568 since 2010, with the Filipino population similarly increasing to almost 1,000, including over 400 “multicultural” children. Although the island is alternatively labelled a paradise and island of peace, life can be tough, and local counseling support services often fall short.
“Their psychological needs, their emotional needs are not being answered. Respondents [for Tadle's MA research] said the problem is cultural adjustment and when they go to the [multicultural centers] the counsellor mostly looks at acculturation — ‘In Korea you have to live like a Korean, blah, blah, blah.’ They think, ‘what about my culture and needs?’ ”
The needs of migrants vary, but there are some patterns. According to provincial statistics, 67.5 percent (324) of adult Filipinos on Jeju are marriage migrants, exclusively women brokered for international marriages with local men, often decades older and living in remote areas.
▲ Jennifer Tadle supports members of Jeju's Filipino community. Photo courtesy Jennifer Tadle
Despite brokers being made illegal in the Philippines in 2009, many women are brought through underground agencies. In 2012, the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family signed an MOU with the Commission on Filipinos Overseas to provide educational programs in the Philippines to educate potential brides about their rights and provide cultural adaptation programs.
In further action, the House of Representatives in Manila is considering passing an amendment to Article 21 of the Family Code. If passed, prospective foreign husbands will have to prove “good moral character” and evidence of gainful employment and income to marry Philippine citizens.
For the marriage migrants already here, Jeju City Multicultural Support Center provides a number of cultural and language courses to ease adaptation. Husbands can take a voluntary “Happy Start” course, part of the Immigration and Social Integration Program. Those completing the course can have their spouse’s visa period extended. (There was originally an obligatory three-day course for husbands, but it was reduced due to low participation.)
Many problems remain, however, with the Korean government itself recognizing that 70 percent of migrant wives experiences domestic violence — 10 percent higher than the national rate — as well as under-employment and poverty. While counseling is available, seeking outside help can cause friction with Korean families.
“We are quite liberal and it is natural to share our problems with our friends, families, extended families, teachers, neighbors — that is very natural to us. But for Korean husbands and families, they don’t like it. They don’t want it to go outside the family,” said Tadle.
▲ The 14th Migrant Hangawi Festival is one of many events intended to increase intercultural understanding on Jeju. Photo courtesy Jeju Migrant Center
Tadle would like to see more of these women positively contributing to their society, yet despite many being skilled, they are often expected to take on lower level jobs. She cites the example of a qualified nurse unable to find work in local hospitals.
“We have to activate these people because there are lots of them who can be useful in the local society. We don’t need lessons on how to cook Korean food... it is better to have a program that motivates foreign migrants to elevate their status in the long term [building on the] skills they had back home,” she said.
A group of Filipinos with employment problems of another kind are the migrant workers, 15 percent of Filipinos living on Jeju. For the women in particular, working in bars and hotels on entertainment visas (of whom there are 47 according to Jeju immigration), their predicament bears many similarities to trafficking, with brokers working through networks here and in the Philippines.
“There is some cross-over with the sex industry. One woman said to me she was [officially] a singer, but actually it was GRO [Guest Relations Officer and a Philippine euphemism for sex worker]. Essentially, it is a form of prostitution [and] trafficking,” she said.
Jeju City Multicultural Support Center say such cases are decreasing and fewer migrants working in the entertainment industry are contacting them for support, making it “impossible to manage them.” FilCom Jeju thus supports the women who slip through this loose safety net.
“I know what they are thinking, what they are trying to say, and how they feel about a situation and [I can] find a way to help,” she says, allowing Tadle to foster emotional bonds with the women.
“Frankly speaking, we fill the gaps that the migrant centers can’t,” she says. “You have to deal with integration concepts. It is not bad to learn Korean ways of living — we have to do it, right? You have to also recognise that these are foreign people... People should not have to throw away their own culture — it is impossible.”
Seeing the dangers faced, Tadle hopes that Korean authorities can improve working conditions and more closely monitor the brokers who operate internationally. However, she stresses that Manila is primarily responsible for the Filipino people.
“It is more on the Philippines government to tighten the laws to fight against trafficking,” she says. “[They] are becoming more concerned about this but it is really hard to solve because of the international network of brokers and... trafficking of women within the migrant marriage sector.”
Tadle believes that more effective support systems for the women already here would not only help the individuals involved, but ultimately Jeju society as it copes with inevitable changing demographics.
“There are lots of people coming [to Jeju] and we have to activate these people... because in the long run... the essence of citizenship is utilising the skills of these people for the benefit of Korean society,” she said.
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