Utoro, located in #51 Ujicity, Kyoto, Japan, has been a dwelling place for many Koreans for a long time. Currently, 65 households and 202 Koreans dwell in Utoro. The history of Korean people in Utoro goes back to 1941, during the World War II, when many Korean workers were mobilized by force to build the Kyoto airport for military purposes. Since then, workers have stayed in Han-ba, a temporary dormitory building, without the most basic necessities including electricity and water.
When Japan lost the war, construction was stopped and the Korean workforce suddenly became jobless. Most people went back to Korea at their own expense, but people who could not afford the travel expenses had to stay, hoping they would someday return home.
During the period of mobilization, the land belonged to Kyoto but after the war, many illegal dealings were made unbeknownst to the Korean residents in Utoro, and the people were eventually forced to move out.
Today, most of the residents are elderly and are engaged in temporary work. Their appeal to the Japanese court in opposition to the expulsion from their homes were dismissed. Currently, there is a trial to decide who the rightful landowner is, with results expected to be released no later than June. Koreans at Utoro hope to buy the land, but in order to succeed they need more support from the government and the people.
International Solidarity to Protect Utoro (ISPU), an NGO, is helping to solve the needs of the Utoro residents, and is taking the initiative to inform the broader society of the problem. The group held an assembly at Utoro last September as well as street campaigns every week at Insadong. Since raising money is most essential at the moment, they are currently focusing on accumulating funds. So far they have raised up to 480,000,000 won.
In this NGO, students play important roles to help out the situation of Koreans in Utoro. Currently, about 20 university students are volunteering at ISPU. Students who are interested in helping Koreans at Utoro can give a hand in various ways. One of them is by participating in gathering petitions to prevent the expulsion of the Korean residents at Utoro. As of now, 200,000 people have signed the petitions.
Jung Hye-won (Yonsei University, 1), who volunteers at ISPU, came to know about the Utoro problem through reading an article in a newspaper. Jung thinks problems related to Korean residents abroad can be resolved only when we all are concerned about it. "Helping them through funding is crucial, but what they really need is our love and interest. Through volunteering I have learned to devote my heart and soul to those whose rights are neglected, which is also meaningful because we are not existing solely for ourselves."
Most of the residents still maintain their Korean citizenship to keep their identity and roots as a Korean. Jung Jin-kyung, a manager of ISPU said, "They are like patriots of the 21st century. Respect is what they should receive rather than sympathy. And I believe our duty ends when the rights of the Korean residents at Utoro are protected. Until then we are like a cripple limping on one side of our leg," Jung added.
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