Monday, November 05, 2007

Home Alone

"By definition, a government has no conscience. Sometimes it has a policy, but nothing more." - Albert Camus

There will now be an Asylums and Immigration Tribunal Hearing in England on December 19th. My wife can not attend since her entry into the UK is barred, and I will have to travel back alone - an potentially difficult thing with Meniere's Disease. In a hopelessly mismatched David and Goliath battle, I will face the Government's lawyers in this Hearing and I do not expect to win.

So the last few days have been tough. We've gone out to try and take our minds off things, and rather than sit in our apartment thinking endlessly about this situation I've sat in Bennigan's, stood by the sea in Haeundae and walked around parks thinking about it endlessly instead.

My wife cried when we received the letter because if I am to sell my house, my possessions and close down all the aspects of my British life with a view to living permanently in Korea, then I will probably not be back for several months. We will spend Christmas apart and if she is never allowed to return there will be no more Christmas dinners with my family, and given that my mother is not in the best of health with increasing difficulties travelling, it's questionable whether she will ever see her again. She certainly won't see my father again - he's confined to a nursing home in the advanced stages of Alzheimer's Disease, which perhaps means it doesn't matter - to him at least - but then even at his stage, sometimes you get that sudden sign of recognition, disconcerting half-laughter in response to a joke, so who knows?

I have visions of us setting up camp in future in Calais to do family visits. Even though I've had some weeks now to consider the possibility that I will not be able to live in England again in my lifetime, I still haven't come to terms with the idea of losing my home.

We went to the Busan Immigration Office on Thursday, where we picked up my extended F-2-1 visa. There were no queries and no fuss. It was just after I phoned the British Embassy to discover that they'd now outsourced their UK Visa Application Service to VFS Global. The machine on the phone told me that each call 'costs the equivalent of $6.60 charged to your credit card'. Yes, the UK now charges you to ask even the most general of questions about visa applications - in US dollars, ironically.

I've often reflected on the experiences of foreigners in Korean society - the stories are not always happy ones and the word 'xenophobia' comes up regularly. There's no denying there are social difficulties here and occasional run-ins with officialdom, but every encounter I've had with Korean bureaucracy so far has been efficient and painless. We Westerners on the other hand like to congratulate ourselves on the long histories of our liberal democracies, our tolerance, our multiculturalism and our justice. We write documents like the European Convention on Human Rights, taking pride in our belief in citizens' rights - while working to ensure those rights don't apply to people individually, Britain's overseas embassies treat foreigners like dirt, we charge them non-refundable £500 fees for visa applications and $6.60 every time they have a question. Is this just some manifestation of late stage capitalism or is it systematic racism - Britain's message to foreigners that they are not welcome, and that their applications are discouraged? So which country really is xenophobic?

One day, in the not too distant future, British Members of Parliament will visit Korea or will play host to Koreans in the UK, and they'll talk great talks of co-operation, business, trade and mutual understanding, as politicians are given to do from time to time, and Britain will hope that the world's 13th largest economy will look favourably on its goods and services, that it will allow HSBC to buy Korea Exchange Bank or whatever the issue of the day happens to be. There will be hard work to try and promote Britain's image in the world. Meanwhile, in the British Embassy's treatment of Koreans applying to enter the UK it is sending out the opposite message, and I have read the stories of applicants on Naver and elsewhere. Perhaps the day may come when Britain reaps what it sows with its attitude towards the Korean people, and whoever else in the world it treats in this way. Certainly, '영국' ('Britain') is dirty word in my extended Korean network, and after the way my wife and I have been treated, there's no going back from that. Perhaps there's no going back from this for me either.

Korean tags: 관료, 자유, 영국, 대사관, 정부


Anonymous said...

I think you should try to go to Canada, the U.S., Calais, or somewhere closer to the UK. Don't give up!

Mike said...

Life goes on and something will happen. There may be some big decisions to make after the Hearing.

Anonymous said...

I'll say this: your balls are fucking big. And I mean that with utmost respect. You are giving a lot to your wife and you've had a lot taken away from you. I'm not sure I could ever give up my country, though a good woman might be the ONLY thing that could make me do it.


Mosher said...

I am utterly, utterly ashamed to be British. For several reasons, but this is most definitely one of them. It seems that our desire to aspire to be just like the United States has at least got as far as our attitude to immigrants (if you apply properly, you can fuck off - if you sneak in and can clean drains and mow the lawn, you can stay).

Have you considered writing to the Home Secretary directly?

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