SEOUL, June 8 (Yonhap) -- Two nuns from Austria were awarded certificates of honorary South Korean citizenship Wednesday in recognition of their contributions to the country through more than 40 years of caring for leprosy patients, government officials said.
The Justice Ministry conferred citizenship on sisters Marianne Stoeger, 82, and Margareta Pissar, 81, who have treated leprosy patients on South Korea's most famous leper colony of Sorok Island off the country's southern coast. Stoeger attended a ceremony at the ministry marking the bestowal of citizenship, but Pissar was not able to do so for health reasons.
During the ceremony, they also received a medal of citizenship and a Korean folding screen decorated with a depiction of the "Sipjangsaeng," or ten longevities.
South Korea awards honorary citizenship to a foreigner who made outstanding and meritorious contributions to enhancing the country's prestige and interests.
It marks the second time for a foreigner to be made an honorary South Korean citizen since Hiddink, the Dutch head coach of the Korean national soccer team, received honorary South Korean citizenship in 2002.
The bestowal of an honorary citizenship certificate does not warrant any legal rights and duties. But the ministry plans to provide them with administrative conveniences such as quick entry and exit through immigration checkpoints and the immediate provision of permanent resident status.
Justice Minister Kim Hyun-woong said, "I would like to extend my heartfelt appreciation to them for the sacrifices they made for people with leprosy for about 40 years."
After graduating from the nursing college of the University of Innsbruck, the two women came to the island in 1962 and 1966, separately, upon hearing that the colony was in need of nurses. They resided on the island for more than 40 years to work at the National Sorok Island Hospital before returning to their home country in 2005.
Despite their long years of duty, the two, often called "the Angels of Sorok Island," did not receive any remuneration for their service and only devoted themselves to caring for leprosy-stricken patients and improving their welfare.
The government presented them with medals in 1972, 1983 and 1996 for their contributions to the country.
The Sorok colony was founded on the small island in 1916 during Japan's colonial rule of Korea (1910-1945), as they attempted to quarantine patients with leprosy. Infected people were rounded up and taken to the island for isolation and treatment.
The South Korean government forced them to remain there until 1963, nearly two decades after Korea's liberation from Japanese colonial rule. Hundreds of people who suffered from the disease still reside on the island, even after having been cured.
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