The online news portal of TV5
The election of a Filipino migrant to Seoul's parliament earlier this month appears to have stirred a hornet's nest of racist and anti-immigrant sentiments in South Korea.
A post on Korean news and commentary site KoreaBang.com says that "with the aftershocks of the general elections last week still rumbling, no other candidate revealed the political fault-line in South Korea like the election of Jasmine Lee, a Filipina-Korean TV host and actress-cum-Saenuri proportional candidate."
Lee, a native of Davao City in the Philippines, had married a Korean seaman and moved to Korea in 1995. She became a Korean citizen in 1998. She was widowed in 2010 after her husband drowned in an attempt to rescue their daughter during a flash flood, KoreaBang.com says.
Since then, Jasmine Lee has made a name for herself in South Korea, primarily as an advocate for migrant women's rights and welfare.
"She is a well-known figure for the Filipino community and an advocate of multicultural families in South Korea is expected to help advance the welfare of some 50,000 OFWs (overseas foreign workers) as well as 1.2 million immigrants in South Korea," KoreaBang.com’s Choi J. Youngchan wrote. Since her husband died, "she has been featured in a number of TV programs, including 'Love in Asia' and a hit-movie Punch."
Korea's ruling party, Saenuri, had hoped "to tap into the immigrants' votes with her nomination," Choi said.
Lee did appear to have pulled in some votes, and she will take a seat in Parliament in May. But her political win has also invited some xenophobia and ant-immigrant sentiment to the surface. Online news and forum sites are rife with detractors and supporters of Lee, but also of explicit anger towards immigrants and pro-immigrant officials.
"The issue of growing presence of migrant workers and foreign residents in South Korea is beginning to be felt the political arena," Choi wrote. "While the need for the manpower in the time of falling fertility and aging demographic is well-recognized, many view the idea of multiculturalism with deep reservation if not with hostile suspicion, as the public reaction to the gruesome murder by a Chinese-Korean migrant worker last week showed. Multiculturalism is seen by many as a policy lobbied by the big business interests and forced upon the ordinary citizens as an attempt to lower the wage, artificially replenish the population and weaken the labor unions and trades organizations in the name of global competitiveness."
Choi points to portal site Daum, with thousands of comments exemplifying the extreme sentiments regarding migrants stirred up by Lee's election.
"A number of controversial comments such as 'mail-order bride sales will go up', 'illegal migrant workers will run rampant' are widely circulating over Twitter," Choi noted. One Twitter user commented: "We will bankrupt ourselves by paying these mail-order brides” while another wrote: "With Jasmine Lee entering the National Assembly, I wonder how many more illegal migrants and mail-order brides will flood in, and reveal the true nature of blood-sucking multiculturalism."
More sober critics kept to the general question and debate over South Korea's migration policies, and Lee's supposed promises to raise welfare programs and social security programs for "illegal migrants".
Lee also had numerous defenders among the Korean public, however, with media and even celebrities calling on critics to desist from racism and unsubstantiated charges.