260 Koreans from Sakhalin return home

As of Saturday, some 260 Koreans from Sakhalin – ethnic Koreans who were forced to settle in the island of Russia’s far east by their Japanese colonizers during World War II – are expected to arrive in their ancestral homeland, the Foreign Ministry announced Thursday.

The repatriation is in line with legislation that came into force in January, which broadened the eligibility criteria for resettlement and South Korean government financial support for Koreans in Sakhalin.

Previously, the law limited the government’s repatriation program to first-generation Sakhalin Koreans – those born before the end of World War II in August 1945 – and their spouses, as well as children of disabled Sakhalin Koreans. first generation.

But the new law now allows every first-generation Sakhalin Korean to bring a spouse plus a direct descendant and that person’s spouse.

The Foreign Ministry said 337 people would be eligible for relocation this year, of which 77 have already settled in South Korea.

The rest of the 260 returnees will arrive here from Saturday to December 10. Only 21 are first generation Sakhalin Koreans, mostly in their 80s and 90s. The first group of 91 people will arrive here on Saturday.

Once in South Korea, they will stay in a separate facility for 10 days to undergo isolation for COVID-19. After the quarantine stages, they will move into government-provided housing in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province and Incheon. Returnees will also undergo a three-month Korean Red Cross-run settlement program, during which they will learn how to adjust to South Korean society, such as procedures for applying for citizenship, establishing bank accounts and accessing to public services.

A foreign ministry official stressed that there were calls to expand the scope of the repatriation program, taking into account that many Koreans in Sakhalin have more than one child and have left other members of the their family behind them.

“We need the interest of society so that the program can be scaled up in the future,” a ministry official said on condition of anonymity.

Historians estimate that around 150,000 Koreans were forced by Japan to move to the southern half of Sakhalin, which was then controlled by the Japanese, in the 1930s and 1940s, when the Korean peninsula was under Japanese colonial rule. .

The uprooted Koreans ended up working in Japanese-run coal mines, lumber yards, pulp mills, and construction sites.

After Japan surrendered in 1945 during World War II, the Soviet Union took control of all of Sakhalin, and many Koreans moved to Japan or North Korea, a Soviet ally. About a third of them wanted to return to South Korea but were not allowed to leave because the US-aligned South had no diplomatic relationship with the Soviet Union – effectively leaving them stranded and stateless for the next four decades.

After South Korea and Russia established diplomatic ties in the early 1990s, around 4,400 Koreans were able to return home under the government program.

The government estimates that around 43,000 Koreans lived on the island at the end of World War II. Many have since died, while others have decided to stay in Russia to be close to their families.

By Ahn Sung-mi ([email protected])

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