By Soo-hyang Choi and DAE-WOUNG KIM

YONGIN, South Korea (Reuters) – A year after nearly 400 Afghan refugees fled the Taliban takeover of their homeland to settle in South Korea, many have traded their white-collar activities for jobs workers in a struggle against linguistic and cultural challenges as they build new lives.

They were among 79 Afghan families South Korea evacuated when Kabul fell to the Taliban in August 2021, allowing them long-term stays in exchange for working on its projects in the mountainous nation ravaged by the war.

“It’s so hard to lose everything, especially your homeland,” Shahpoor Ahmad Azimi, 38, told Reuters in tears just hours before starting his 12-hour night shift at a plastics factory in Yongin, Australia. south of Seoul, the capital.

A graduate of the elite Kabul University, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and having previously worked with a Korean provincial reconstruction team in Afghanistan, Azimi now packages plastic products.

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Despite the career change, work feeds his family, Azimi said, expressing his gratitude to South Korea for helping them escape the Taliban who restricted the rights of women and girls, especially after toppling the government. backed by the West.

“My daughters can’t go out alone in Afghanistan, can’t go to school alone,” Azimi added in an interview. “But here you never think about (that) when they go out alone.”

Yet every day is a challenge, he said, with language training being the biggest hurdle on the road to resettlement.

“Sometimes I can’t tell the exact reasons to my boss, or to my colleagues,” he added, describing the struggle to find the right words to explain himself in his new language.

“They say, ‘Why can’t you do (something) like this?’ But I can’t say why.”

While the government offers language classes to refugees, few of these work teams can find the time to attend.

“You see our schedule, we don’t have time to learn,” said Rahmatullah Rahmat, a former translator who now works with Azimi, pointing to a duty roster at the factory. “It’s the most difficult.”

Many of the Afghans evacuated to South Korea were office workers like Azimi, but most had to change professions to find jobs, according to government data.

Of the 78 families still in South Korea as of February, 72 people had found jobs in manufacturing and shipbuilding, 15 of whom had quit, the data showed.

“They cited difficulty adjusting due to communication, health and work environment issues,” said Song So-young, head of a support group the government has set up for newcomers. arrivals.

Of 27 with a background in medical services, only two were able to find employment in the same sector. Now the government is considering the issue of recognizing licenses and accumulated experience in their home country, Song said.

Cultural differences are sometimes evident in a country where many still believe in ethnic homogeneity. Some Korean parents staged a protest against Afghan children entering local schools when they arrived last year.

Despite the host of concerns, Azimi said he has no plans to return to Afghanistan in the near future, for the well-being of his children, among other reasons.

Now, he added, he “never” thinks about the past and the life he had in Afghanistan, preferring to focus on a fresh start.

“If I think about my past, I will lose everything here. My family and my children. I start my life first from here.”

(Reporting by Soo-hyang Choi and Dae-woung Kim; Editing by Josh Smith and Clarence Fernandez)

Copyright 2022 Thomson Reuters.