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Ahad, September 13, 2009

Mariam Johari

After 60 years, woman becomes a citizen here
December 06, 2007

Mariam Johari
Mariam Johari has been living on this peninsula longer than many native Koreans.
Now, after more than six decades, the Malaysia-born woman has finally become a Korean citizen.
On a hospital bed in Seoul, Johari, 86, yesterday received a piece of paper that made it official.
“I cannot even express in words how truly ecstatic I am for my mom, who’s lived in this country for so long but has never been able to enjoy any benefits as a Korean,” said her stepson, Ji Yong-un. “Now she will be able to get her medical care without worrying about money. Becoming a Korean was her lifetime dream.”
Ji had been living with Johari and taking care of her until she fell ill only a couple of days before the naturalization ceremony, Ji said. She’s been suffering from various illnesses including heart disease and diabetes.
The Justice Ministry announced that Johari could skip the required written naturalization test and would not penalize her “illegal immigration status” for humanitarian reasons.
In 1946, when she was 25, Johari stepped onto the dock at the Port of Busan with a Korean man she had met at a concentration camp during World War II in Singapore.
Born in 1921 in Malaysia, she was kidnapped in 1943 by the Japanese military after her Malaysian husband and father of her three children died. She was taken to a concentration camp run by Japan, where she spent three years working as a slave laborer.
She met the Korean man there. Because he was already married, Johari couldn’t officially register their marriage, even though they had a wedding. Johari said her Korean husband abandoned her in 1955 even though she had taken care of his parents for almost a decade.
When she didn’t renew her registration as a foreigner with the Korean Immigration Service, her legal status ended on Dec. 31, 1955, according to Kang Seong-hwan, her caseworker in the Justice Ministry.
She moved to Seoul from South Jeolla and worked as a maid. She eventually became the surrogate stepmother of her employer’s three sons who lived there after their dying mother asked Johari to take care of them, Ji said.
Johari always yearned to visit her motherland, but doing so was not easy.
In addition to her illegal immigration status in Korea, Malaysia didn’t recognize her nationality because she didn’t have a birth certificate and there was no record of her.
Her story became public when a Korean Broadcasting Service TV program, “Love in Asia,” aired her life story in July. The program sent her back to Malaysia. There, she met her children, one son and two daughters, who have their own grandchildren now.
Even though she cannot speak fluent Korean or Malay, she has three children in each country.
“I met her when I was about two years old when she came to work for us as a maid,” Ji said. “And I’ve been living with her for almost 50 years. She’s my mom.”

By Lee Yang-kyoung Staff Reporter []

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