Vietnamese 'outcasts' are stranded in Korea

Intolerance of people of mixed heritage has made outcasts of some 400 Vietnamese women and children stranded here after South Korea's iovolvement in the Vietnam war.

They ended up here after the women married Korean servicemen who fought in Vietnam.

''Korean society is without pity for people of mixed blood,'' says Father Paulissen, a Dutch resident of Korea for the past 14 years. ''Such a person is a 'nonbeing,' '' explains the priest, who has been helping the outcasts.

When the servicemen came home in 1975 after the fall of Saigon, their wives and children came too.

The Korean government allowed them in and issued them residence permits. This could have provided the happy ending to a story of war romance.

But Korean society is one of the most homogenous societies in the world. It used to be called the ''hermit kingdom.''

So the women and children have ended up ironically trapped by the bureaucratic kindness: their residence permits became a prison wall. Fr. Paulissen explained that because they have the permits, refugee organizations consider them ''resettled,'' and will not help them move to a more hospitable environment. The fact that they are not as desperate as refugees in camps keeps them off priority lists.

''The government would give these mixed-blood people a chance,'' says Fr. Paullisson, ''but the ordinary people will not. We've seen the same problem with Korean women who have children fathered by American servicemen.''

Korean men quickly found their Vietnamese families an embarrassment, and they sometimes abandoned them. For the women everything was strange and difficult -- food, climate, customs, and language. Those who could, left. Those who remain lack money, contacts, and know-how.

While recently visiting America, Fr. Paulissen found two states, Iowa and Oregon, willing to accept the women and children. In Iowa, the Vietnamese already living there, mostly men, seemed particularly happy with the idea. But because the women do not have relatives there, it is unlikely the US will issue them visas.

At the back of their minds is the hope that one day they will be able to go back to a Vietnam. But until then, America seems a temporary promised land for the women.

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