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Sakhalin Koreans fail to move National Assembly

Ethnic Koreans from Sakhalin on a street in Seoul.JPG

"We put together US$7,000 to buy plane tickets to Seoul. It is embarrassing to return like this."

So says a depressed-looking Lee Su-jin, chairman of association for separated families in Sakhalin, Russia, a day before leaving South Korea over the weekend. Four other leaders of civic organizations in Sakhalin also expressed sadness for having failed to accomplish any of their goals during their 8-day visit to Korea. About 200 members of civic groups in Sakhalin donated money for their plane fares are waiting for them in Russia. And as has long been the case, there are still more than 36,000 ethnic Koreans waiting for the day they can return to Korea permanently.

The groups stayed at a house in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province that was lent to them free of charge. In high priced South Korea, they were forced to eat mostly box lunches and use public transport. Though all over 60 years old, they walked shorter distances.

They came to South Korea to urge the National Assembly to pass legislation designed to assist ethnic Koreans in Sakhalin early as possible. Under such a "special law," even second and third-generation descendants and their spouses would be allowed to settle in Korea permanently. Presently only first-generation Koreans have been allowed to settle permanently, causing some to return to Sakhalin because they missed their families.

However, a special bill which was proposed in the National Assembly in 2005 has yet to get passed the Unification, Foreign Affairs and Trade Committee. In the past, Sakhalin Koreans were invited to visit Korea at the expense of those who invited them, but this time they funded the visit themselves because they wanted to come and encourage the National Assembly to take action.

The ethnic Korean population in Sakhalin, Russia originated from about 150,000 Koreans who were moved there as forced laborers by the Imperial Japanese government during World War II. Over 36,000 still remain there, including their descendants.

Eight days is not a long visit and the group had a lot of places on their agenda. A day after they arrived in Seoul on April 23 they visited the Korean National Red Cross. Later they met people from Sakhalin who have already settled in Ansan. They also visited organizations supporting Korean residents in foreign countries and met Kim Won-ung, chairman of the National Assembly's Unification, Foreign Affairs and Trade Committee. The mood was certainly not what it was when they came two years ago. At that time, then-Assembly speaker Kim Won-ki took part in the first public hearing held in November 2005. There were persons who sold their homes in the anticipation that they will be able to settle in South Korea. Kim Bu-ja, a member of the delegation, lamented about changes in the mood at the Assembly.

They returned showing disappointment. Rep. Kim Won-ung promised them to hold another public hearing regarding the special bill in June. They left, Korea, their native land, the morning on April 30.

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