Koreans in Mongolia
|3,500 South Koreans (2008)
200 North Koreans (2008)
Plus an unknown number of North Korean defectors
|Regions with significant populations|
|Related ethnic groups|
Population and business activities
In 1994, there were estimated to be around 100 South Korean expatriates in Mongolia. Official statistics from South Korea's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade showed 270 of their nationals in Mongolia in 1997, which more than tripled to 870 by 2003 and then grew again by 72% to 1,497 in 2005. More recent unofficial estimates suggest this number had again more than doubled by 2008, to 3,500 individuals. Aside from residents, the number of South Korean tourists has also shown an upward trend, reaching 40,000 individuals in 2007.
Many South Korean expatriates operate small businesses; the number of businesses in Mongolia funded by South Korean capital was estimated at 1,500 as of 2008[update]. The various types of businesses include restaurants serving Korean cuisine, karaoke bars, and even eyeglass shops. A weekend language and culture school for Korean children was set up in 1998 by a local Korean church. Under a bilateral agreement, both South Koreans working in Mongolia as well as Mongolians working in South Korea are exempted from otherwise-mandatory contributions to the national pension plans of the country they reside in.
Ethnic conflict and crime
The growth of the South Korean presence has caused some tensions with their Mongolian hosts. Koreans find it relatively easy to learn the Mongolian language; however, they are often perceived as arrogant by Mongolians. In 2005, Korean-owned businesses in Ulan Bator which displayed hangul signs were ordered to switch them to English or Mongolian only, a situation which South Korean news agency YTN attributed to growing Mongolian nationalism.
Among the numerous South Korean owned businesses are a number of karaoke bars operating as fronts for prostitution (growing from just one in 2002 to an estimated fifty as of 2005). Sex tourism by South Korean men, often as clients of South Korean-run businesses in Mongolia, has also sparked anti-Korean sentiment among Mongolians, and is said to be responsible for the increasing number of assaults on South Korean nationals in the country. The South Korean Ministry of Gender Equality and Family has the power to refuse to renew the passports of South Koreans who are arrested overseas for soliciting prostitutes, but this has had little effect on the problem.
As of May 2008, roughly 200 North Korean citizens worked in Mongolia. In February 2008, Ulan Bator and Pyongyang reached an agreement which would allow as many as 5,300 North Korean workers to come to Mongolia over the following five years. The relevant agreement came before the State Great Hural for approval in May that year. An open letter from American NGO Human Rights Watch in August called on Mongolian Minister of Social Welfare and Labor Damdiny Demberel to ensure that the workers' freedom of expression, movement, and association would be respected; North Korean workers in similar positions in Europe were often denied such rights by their North Korean government minders. The South Korean ambassador described Mongolia's decision to import North Korean workers as "problematic".
As early as 2004, some South Korean citizens' groups had begun laying plans to construct camps in Mongolia to house North Korean refugees; however, they were denied permission by the Mongolian government. In September 2005, South Korean NGO Rainbow Foundation stated that they had been granted 1.3 square kilometres of land near Ulan Bator, and would soon begin construction on a centre which could house as many as 200 North Korean refugees  However, during his November 2006 trip to Beijing, Mongolian prime minister Miyeegombyn Enkhbold denied reports that his country was planning to set up any refugee camps for North Koreans, though he reaffirmed that they would be treated in a humanitarian manner. In October 2008, South Korean president Lee Myung-bak was reported to have ordered his officials to look further into the possibility of setting up a camp for them in Mongolia.
The Mongolian government does have facilities to provide shelter for North Korean refugees on their territory; in December 2007, Vitit Muntarbhorn, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in North Korea, praised Mongolia's treatment of North Korean refugees in an official report, noting that they had made commendable progress in improving such facilities since his previous visit.
Both the Mongolian and South Korean governments' policies towards refugees have shifted several times. In June 2007, Mongolia began to turn North Korean refugees away from their borders, reportedly with the aim of improving their diplomatic relations with North Korea. Similarly, in October 2007, the South Korean side was reported to be "closing the door" to North Korean refugees in Mongolia and Southeast Asia; North Korea watcher Andrei Lankov, a professor at Seoul's Kookmin University, attributed this to a deliberate policy by the South Korean government to minimise the number of new refugees.
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