Fourth generation ethnic Koreans from Central Asia face deportation in Korea

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"만 19세 되면 한국 떠나야"…고려인 4세의 설움

Eighty years have passed since the forced deportation of ethnic Koreans from the Russian Far East to Central Asian countries.
Still today, many of them struggle to find their home, and that includes those who returned to home soil.
Kim Hyesung turns the spotlight to their side of the story for our News Features tonight.

Sixteen-year-old Lee Mi-yeon is studying hard with her classmates at a high school in Ansan, south of Seoul.
Unlike the other students, she's a Kareisky, an ethnic Korean from Central Asia, who moved to Korea from Uzbekistan in 2011.
After many ups and downs, Mi-yeon says she's finally adjusted to her life in Korea.

"I cried almost every day during my first year here in Korea, telling my mom I want to go back to Uzbekistan because I had no friends and everything was new. But after picking up the Korean language and slowly making more friends, I became more open personality-wise. I made more friends and have supportive teachers. I'm really grateful "

Mi-yeon's parents came to Korea in 2009, two years before her, to work and settle down.
They say they're glad they were able to live together again, and they're proud to see their daughter doing well in school.

"All l wish for... is to see Mi-yeon grow up, go to college, get married, have kids here in Korea and be happy. We've lived in Uzbekistan, Russia, and Korea, and have a somewhat mixed identity. Ultimately I feel like Korea is my home at heart. But because of the visa issue, I'm worried that that my wish might be impossible."

"A growing number of ethnic Koreans from Central Asia have moved to South Korea over the last several years -- a total of 40-thousand as of this year. But around a thousand of them, kids like Lee Mi-yeon, the fourth generation, will eventually have to leave the country when they turn 19."

The current Overseas Koreans Act defines overseas Koreans as those with citizenship in another country who have at least one parent or grandparent who possessed Korean citizenship.

"The third generation can get national health insurance and work in Korea, but the fourth generation who came with parents with H2 working visa cannot remain in the country on family-sponsored visas once they become adults."

These people are the descendants of Koreans who moved to the Russian Far East during the Japanese colonial rule.
Under Stalin's regime in the Soviet Union, they were forced in 1937 to relocate to Central Asian countries like Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.
They've lived outside of Korea for decades.
But according to Kim Young-suk, the director of a social welfare organization supporting ethnic Koreans, the Kareski still have a lot in common with Koreans here.

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"Many formed their own Korean communities even when in Central Asia. Kareisky still maintain a Korean lifestyle and customs, such as eating Korean food, holding ancestral rites and upholding Korean traditional virtues like filial duty."

Kim says if the fourth generation are forced to leave Korea when they turn 19, it could create social problems, not to mention the separation of families.

"After having painfully adjusted to Korean society, the fourth generation will have go through a readjustment process all over again in Central Asia. They may not be able to find a job. Above all, they want to stay in Korea, but if forced to leave, it could create anti-Korean sentiment."

An organization in Korea is calling for the current Overseas Koreans Act to be revised.
The People’s Committee for the 80th Anniversary of the Forced Kareisky Relocation submitted a proposal to the Moon Administration on June 6th.

Experts say the 1999 Act is outdated, and that the Korean government has a duty to help the Kareisky. many of whom are descendants of the Korean independence activists of the early 20th century.
But there's no easy fix.

"From a common-sense standpoint, the current Act on Overseas Koreans does need changes. But if the government grants visas to all ethnic Koreans from Central Asia, they would also need to give visas to all ethnic Koreans from China. Revising the law could result in discrimination and conflict with the Chinese government. So the Moon Administration definitely needs to take a cautious and wise approach."

Even after several decades, many ethnic Koreans from Central Asia are still struggling to find a place to call home.
As more of them return to Korea, there'll be more in the fourth generation living in fear, not knowing how long they can stay with their family.
And time to find a fair solution is running out.
Kim Hyesung, Arirang News.