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News : Multilingual Danuri Helpline Assists Migrants in Korea


Seoul, South Korea, Feb 21, 2023 -- For migrants coming to live in South Korea, life can be full of challenges, both expected and unexpected. The barriers are numerous and at times enormous; language, family expectations and work culture are all high walls to scale for new arrivals to the country. One of the most difficult things to do in life is to ask for help, and with such barriers present, it is not any easier. Who can one call when they face difficulties at home with their spouse or at work with their employer? Who will care and who will listen? Who will help?

Danuri will.

Danuri offers a portal available in 13 languages online, and a hotline at 1577-1366.

"The first title of Danuri was Migrant Women Emergency Call Center in 2006," Lee Sabel, a Danuri human rights volunteer for Korean/Filipino families, tells The Korea Times. "It was a kind of call center having interpreters with different nationalities. Because of Korean language difficulties, cultural misunderstandings resulted in family problems and violence."

In response to growing social conflicts, as evidenced by the rising divorce rates among migrant couples, the service was transformed into the Danuri Call Center in 2010 thanks to widespread community support.

Lee moved to Korea from the Philippines over 22 years ago, and in 2001 she started working at the Women's Hotline with Kwon Hyeon-hui, who is now Gwangju Danuri head officer. She has since volunteered for numerous community organizations, working with migrants, youth and hospital patients to name a few.

It was in the early days of Danuri that they uncovered the root cause of marital problems in the international community. Through a survey, they found that the main source of family conflicts was language, so they started to develop hotlines with different languages to reach migrants.

"Danuri involves Koreans, instructors and counselors using different languages, such as Mongol and Filipino, to people of different nationalities," she says. "Women represent their nationalities and guide those families with their problems. All interpreters speak Korean and their own native language. They offer counseling between family members."

One of the key services Danuri offers is couples counseling for both spouses, with interpretation between their own languages to help them work out problems. According to the Danuri website, they offer marriage immigrant counseling in 13 languages from counseling professionals who speak Korean, English, Chinese, Vietnamese, Tagalog (Filipino), Khmer (Cambodian), Mongolian, Russian, Japanese, Thai, Lao, Uzbek and Nepali. These counselors and interpreters are paid trained professionals. The translators receive counselor training in Seoul from the government and from NGOs in couples counseling and domestic abuse.

The organization covers a wide number of services including government assistance, shelter, free education and free legal assistance. It is partnered with family education organizations as well as some private sector community education institutions. However, the main focus is on marital relationships.

Seeking legal help is a particularly daunting challenge for migrants, particularly when it involves problems at home. Danuri can offer legal assistance and advice for issues such as procuring a lawyer, seeking divorce or reporting crimes to the police.

As Danuri is held to a high standard of community responsibility, it is obligated to report crimes to the police. However, the organization does not disclose visa status to immigration officials and can offer assistance to undocumented migrants seeking legal protection. It can also offer help to sex trafficking victims who may be hesitant to deal with legal authorities.

"We weren't involved with police in the first place, but because of rampant family violence, we needed help from the police," Lee says, explaining the need for police involvement.

Danuri also refers callers to community members for further assistance. This is the role that Lee fills in the Filipino and migrant communities in Gwangju and South Jeolla Province, through the Gwangju Migrant Women Association. As a volunteer with Migrant Women in Jeollanamdo, she provides advice and counseling to help people in need with their personal problems. She also helps with serious legal matters including domestic and child abuse.

Danuri has a registered interpreter Lee as well as Annaliza Bahay as advisers for the Gwangju-Jeonnam Philippines Community (GJPC), through which they engage directly with migrants seeking help. "Annaliza Bahay is a registered interpreter for English and Tagalog at the Danuri Call Center," explains Lee, whose position at Danuri is human rights volunteer. "I work behind her when she is busy and can't go out, for matters that are not too serious."

Explaining the goal of Danuri, Lee takes a serious tone appropriate for their serious work. "I think it is assistance in communication, assistance in our community regarding work or jobs and the connection between the person and the community, that is the main goal," she said smiling. "Any kind of problem, Danuri can offer help."


Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent

Today's Tip of the Day - Escalation Procedures

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