“Please Help Me Receive My Divorce Papers from Korea”

“Meeting the Migrant Women that Left” Mongolian Women’s Unresolved Divorces

Han Kuk-yeom 2020-11-23

I visited Mongolia and interviewed seven Mongolian women who returned from Korea, where they had migrated for marriage to Korean men, and one of their children. I begin this article with the conclusion: their most urgent problem was resolving issues around divorce.

 

Let’s take a look at the situations that these migrant women who left Korea are facing through N’s story. N is struggling in many ways to live in Mongolia—her home country—because she’s not legally divorced. 

 

▲ Our investigation team visited Mongolia’s National Statistics Office to research the conditions of the Mongolian women who left Korea.

 

She came to Korea at the age of 22 out of mere trust in her 44-year-old husband’s words

 

N married a Korean man in 2005 and migrated to Korea. However, after being harassed by her husband and his family through incessant surveillance and restriction for a year, she returned to Mongolia. 

 

N had just graduated from medical school in Mongolia. A friend said, “Now that you’ve graduated and you have nothing to do, my boyfriend’s (Korean) friend is coming to visit, and you should meet up with him and think about marrying him. If you go to Korea, he’ll send you to school and do everything for you.” That friend’s boyfriend was a Korean man who ran a marriage brokering agency. 

 

N met this man [in Mongolia] through her friend’s arrangement. She was 22 years old then. She wanted to continue her studies. She told him, “I’ll marry you if you can really support me in my studies and schooling.” He said, “Okay,” and she married him out of trust in his words. 

 

At that time, she didn’t even have a chance to ask the age of this man that she was about to marry. After getting married, she learned that he was 44 years old, making him 22 years older than her. After five months of marriage, her visa was approved and she entered Korea. 

 

N described her marriage as “marriage fraud”.

 

“When I came to Korea, things were different from what he had described. He had told me that he ran a freight business. He said he was the business owner and had multiple people working for him. But in reality, he was just a freight truck driver. He didn’t have a proper home and was living in a studio apartment. He didn’t give me access to a phone and didn’t let me call my mom. After two weeks, I begged to call my mom. Then he let me. Then he didn’t let me for another two weeks. So I cried and cried…” 

 

▲ A view in Mongolia, which I visited to meet the migrant women who left.  ©Women Migrants Human Rights Center of Korea

 

The “harassment to get pregnant” by the husband’s family was unbearable

 

“My mother-in-law brought me to see an obstetrician within two days of arriving in Korea, when I still couldn’t really speak the language. And after the first month, she kept asking me why I was still not pregnant. Then I was forced to see an obstetrician again [not long after]. She would also search around the house to see whether I was taking birth control pills or not. All of that was just too much.” 

 

N had a college degree from Mongolia, and her husband had promised to support N to continue her academic pursuits. However, far from keeping that promise, there were even  “arguments about [N] going to Korean language school”. At first, her husband sent her to a Korean language school at a [nearby] college, but his mother and sisters began to oppose the idea, saying that he was treating her too well. They also added that it let her go out too much. So it came to an end. 

 

Whenever her husband left home at 6 a.m. [for work], her mother-in-law came and turned off the washing machine, took out all the clothes, demonstrated how to wash clothes by hand, and told her, “Wash them by hand.” Moreover, the mother-in-law took all of N’s clothes except a top, a pair of pants, and a pair of shoes. She told N not to leave the house. 

 

Ultimately, N was never able to go out of the house and learned Korean by watching TV. When she started understanding Korean, she heard her husband and her mother-in-law fighting over the Korean language school. 

 

She heard her mother-in-law say, “We spent a lot of money. We bought her for fifteen million won. Why’s she like this, when we spent nearly twenty million won?” N was deeply shocked and started thinking that this was not a way to live. 

 

A lot of these migrant women’s husbands are often in financially unstable situations. If the husband’s family is providing some kind of financial support, they often intervene and control the foreign wife’s comings and goings, as well as her contacts. Even though learning Korean is crucial for living in Korea, there are a number of cases where husbands and their families do things like prohibiting their migrant wives from going to multicultural family support centers, in order to prevent them from learning Korean.

 

Without a Certificate of Alien Registration, and with her passport confiscated by her husband 

 

“I was struggling so much that I fled to my friend’s place in Seoul. Then my husband wouldn’t stop calling so I went back home. However, whenever we fought, he would throw things at me and tell me to leave. So I ran away again. He promised that it wouldn’t happen again, but it was always the same. The last time I left, I decided to return to Mongolia. I was working in Suwon to save up some money, but then I got caught. Before I was caught, I was washing dishes, cleaning and packing for moving services, and working in kitchens.”

 

N was caught as an undocumented immigrant because her husband didn’t extend her stay of residence. When she went to the immigration office to extend her stay residence herself, the officer showed her the runaway report that her husband filed. It turned out that her husband had filed a runaway report when she first left but never rectified it [even after she returned]. 

 

N ended up staying at the Immigration Detention Center in Suwon for two weeks and then getting deported to Mongolia. She didn’t even have her passport. However, by that time, N was certain that she would not go back to her husband and was already thinking about going back home. 

 

What I found extremely absurd while interviewing N was that she never even received her Certificate of Alien Registration because her husband never applied for it with her. She had never even visited the immigration office. Her husband had her passport. She was only able to fly out to Mongolia because the Mongolian embassy issued a temporary passport for her. 

 

It is required for [any foreigners staying more than 90 days] to be issued a Certificate of Alien Registration within three months of arriving in Korea. However, I often saw women who didn’t even know that they were not registered from the beginning of their marriages because their Korean husbands never applied for them, only to find this out when they were returning home. 

 

What made N’s story more heartbreaking was that she was never introduced to friends or organizations that could support her in Korea, where she didn’t speak the language and had to go through everything alone. She didn’t have enough information, and under her husband’s family’s absolute control, she didn’t even know that those resources existed. 

 

The only help she could possibly receive was from Mongolian women that lived in the same neighborhood. They didn’t speak Korean at all, and they couldn’t meet each other often because of their in-laws’ control. When she left [her husband’s place], she was able to find work and housing only through Mongolian friends’ help. She had no contact with a Korean person. 

 

▲ Mongolian home cooking. The only people who helped N during the painful time with her husband and his family’s violence and control were other Mongolian women. ©Women Migrants Human Rights Center of Korea

 

“I want to receive my divorce papers from Korea”

 

Even when she returned to Mongolia, N’s husband wanted to bring her back to Korea. N told him, “Come to Mongolia. Let’s give it another try.” He came to Mongolia and applied for a new visa for N at the Korean embassy. However, because she “had a record of getting caught undocumented”, she was not able to get a visa issued. After that, she lost contact with her husband. 

 

Ten years have passed since then. How is N doing after returning to Mongolia? She has done her best to forget about the miserable marriage and worked hard in Mongolia. She learned Korean while working at a Korean company in Mongolia, and she’s been working at a Korean trading company in China for six years now. 

 

She also met her current boyfriend (who is Korean). N is now 4 weeks pregnant, and they want to get married. When I asked her whether she worries about living in Korea again as a marriage-based migrant woman if she marries her Korean boyfriend, she said, “(The situation) is different now. I’m marrying him because I love him.” 

 

“My boyfriend said he doesn’t mind living in China or Mongolia, wherever I want. After getting married, I actually want to go to China for work after going to Korea for a honeymoon.” 

 

However, the problem is that N is not legally divorced. In order for her to remarry in Mongolia, she needs divorce documentation, such as a court’s written judgment or a divorce record. 

 

“I can only remarry if I am legally divorced. Please help me receive my divorce papers from Korea.”

 

For situations like N’s where a still-married woman has been caught living undocumented and is deported, or for a woman who has divorced but then stayed in the country undocumented before leaving of her own accord, it is impossible to get a visa issued. This means that deported women who never got to legally divorce are unable to go to Korea and resolve this issue. Most of the time, these women are uncertain about their husbands’ current situations, cannot speak Korean well enough to ask their husbands to send divorce papers if they get them on the phone, or are afraid of how their husbands will respond.

 

Within the Korean legal system, when a spouse is not present, you can still get divorced by sending the divorce papers through public notice and then proving your spouse’s absence to the courts. However, Mongolian law is different. If your spouse cannot be contacted, you cannot get divorced. N doesn’t even know whether or not her husband has legally divorced her in Korea. 

 

N has been keeping in touch with the Mongolian friends that she met in Korea. They are all in similar situations: divorced in reality but not on paper. 

 

“When I say to my friends, ‘What’s happening with your [divorce process]? I still need to get divorced,’ they tell me, ‘It’s still the same for us. When you find out how to do it, please let us know.’” 

 

Whether voluntarily or involuntarily, they returned back home, but they could not start afresh because of their incomplete divorce processes. 

 

Women who returned to Mongolia to resettle and live [well]

 

Every woman who returned to Mongolia that I met told me that her life in Mongolia is much happier than in Korea. After returning to Mongolia, most of them were earning a living. For those with children, most were raising them alone. Of course, sometimes they would get help from their parents or siblings. They told me that they were happy to be with their parents and siblings, but most of all, to be without the stress they once had from their marriages in Korea. 

 

The birth registrations of the women’s children, who didn’t acquire Korean citizenship, are under their mothers’ names, which has qualified them to receive benefits from the Mongolian welfare system—though it’s not much. Of course, living as a single mother is difficult. They are always worried about their and their children’s health. 

 

▲ Our research team visited the ‘Human Rights and Women’s Development Center’ in Mongolia and discussed different plans to support Mongolia women’s resettlement. ©Women Migrants Human Rights Center of Korea

 

Their first and foremost desire was to have their divorce issues resolved. Some women said they would never remarry after experiencing such terrible marriages in Korea. But most of the women were living with new boyfriends and struggling with the unresolved divorce issues. 

 

The return of migrant women to their own countries is either voluntary or involuntary. However, with one exception, the migrant women’s cases I encountered in Mongolia were strongly involuntary in nature. Even when the return looks like it’s voluntary, it’s often because the women found it impossible to live in Korea, not because they particularly want to live in Mongolia. They are basically pushed to go back. The least that Korean society can do is to not make an environment that forces marriage-based migrant women to leave.

 

On the other hand, because it forces these marriage-based migrant women to leave, Korean society has a responsibility to seek resettlement solutions for these women. What I confirmed from my visit to Mongolia was that the very first step is to resolve their “incomplete divorces”. (Interpreter: Narangtoya)

 

*This series on women who came to Korea through marrying Korean men and left, “Meeting the Migrant Women that Left,” is sponsored by the Korea Press Foundation’s Press Promotion Fund.

 

By Han Kuk-yeom

Translated by: Han Seung-a

 

*Original article: http://ildaro.com/8749

 

◆ To see more English-language articles from Ilda, visit our English-language blog(https://ildaro.blogspot.com).

기사입력 : 2020-11-23

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