We know that man is greatly affected by the nature and environment around him, and perhaps geography has played a big role in what we are about to talk about.
The first piece of land strewn with migrants and refugees is Incheon airport is the same region in which they live for a long period ranging from 6 months to a year. Here, at the refugee support center in Yongjong-do, migrants and refugees become familiar with their new country and its culture and language.
Migrants chose the city of Incheon which is located halfway between the capital and the airport. Incheon, through its seaports and the airport, is also the closest place to their home countries, a place where many Arab families settle down.
According to “O.Y” who is responsible for “WAHA” members, there are men, women and children from several nationalities here including Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and other Arab countries. There are even different nationalities from Africa and Asia, and most of them work in the car industry that is spread across Incheon.
Various waves of immigration and asylum-seeking in Korea has helped to create a small Arab community. This is mostly a group of different families where men work full-time, which creates a need for women of these families to invest their time in something that first benefits themselves and then their families.
According to “O.Y”, the Center was another refuge where Arab housewives and mothers spend time attempting to overcome hardships they face in Korean society. These hardships range from learning the Korean language, picking up survival skills that are useful in Korean society and even helping their children with homework! She also says that members of “WAHA” are diverse, including refugees, migrants. They pursue different professions such as teaching, and some of them came to Korea to invest with their families. They also vary in age and belong to many nationalities, including Egypt, Yemen, Syria, and Iraq.
According to “N.Y,” despite the different cultures, dialects, and nationalities, “WAHA” was able to accommodate all of this diversity.
However, the most special thing about “WAHA” is that it was considered a safe refuge for its female members, especially as they go through experiences of expatriation in Korean society. “WAHA” is a place where they gathered and practiced the cultural activities of their country, as they talked about various topics, exchanged views and also their problems and solutions.
For example, members may talk about a problem and the other women share in helping her through it. Over time, this formed into a program to educate women about their rights especially with regards to issues like
Domestic violence, racism or their children being exposed to school bullying etc. As “N.Y” says, they have devoted a large part of their agenda to raising awareness about women’s rights.
Food has a special ability to bring people together, surrounding them with a circle of culture. Food comes with narration, singing and stories and that is why the food of Oasis was a major pull factor for members to attend. This was not a gathering just for Arab women, women of Africa, particularly Ghana and Ethiopia also attended events.
At first glance, when you see WAHA’s office building in Incheon, you feel that this is a big thing and that those in charge of it are making a great effort. According to “N.Y,” this is a new place won after a lot of difficult experiences and struggle.
“N.Y” and “O.Y” said that “the oasis” would not have existed without the presence of assistance from Incheon Center for Human Rights and Child Welfare as they have played a major role in developing the idea of the “WAHA” into what it is now through funding, material and moral support. Sometimes this comes from the United Nations and at other times, this support comes from the Center itself.
According to the members, the center helped them a lot through its activities such as arranging Korean classes as well as various arts and crafts classes such as candle-making class, and sewing and so on.
We asked the two members, for their opinion on how the Corona pandemic affected their newborn activities. They answered that their activities had stopped greatly and that WAHA would be something different without the pandemic. We also asked them what prevented “WAHA” from reaching all migrant women in general and the Arabs in particular.
Member “O.Y” said, “Our work is largely dependent on material support and then moral support. The work is highly dependent on financial support from the Center for Human Rights and donations through other means.”
According to “N.Y,” the idea of “WAHA” began with the need to gather and feel a sense of belonging, evoking the culture of the home country. To help fill this need, this place was created after consulting with many Arab women. Everyone encouraged the idea and were enthusiastic about it to the extent that it immediately started implementing and extracting the necessary documents etc.
“N.Y” also says that the creation of the oasis was inevitable and that gathering these women is driven by their need to feel their homeland, and talking about their own country is the closest thing to it. This is reflected in the choice of the name, “WAHA” which means “the oasis” – a place full of water wells and green trees in the heart of the vast desert of exile.
글 | Ibrahim Abdalla/이브라 기자 (이주민방송MWTV)
사진 | Darwish Musab/무열 (이주민방송MWTV)
영어감수 | Dr. Farrah Sheikh/파라