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Subject  Helping Refugees
Name  HiKorea
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By Choo Kyu-ho『This article was carried on the opinion page of The Korea Times issued on 20th June, 2008 - an article of commissioner of Korea Immigration Service.』


Helping Refugees

By Choo Kyu-ho


Myanmar, badly hit by Cyclone Nargis last May, is a country that has been suffering under military rule and internal conflict since 1962.

There are over one million Myanmar refugees living in refugee camps in neighboring Thailand and more elsewhere. The Korean government has recognized this and is currently sheltering 30 refugees from Myanmar.

Among the 30 Myanmar refugees are two children, nine and 11-years old. As a persecuted ethnic minority, the father of the children was recognized as a refugee in 2005, but the children could not join him for some time due to a lack of proper documentation showing their relationship.

The Korean government arranged for the family union after verifying the children's identities through a DNA test.

The first asylum case registered with the Korean government was in 1994, two years after Korea's signing of the Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.

As of this May, a total of 1,951 asylum-seekers and refugees have sought asylum in Korea. Among the 490 cases that have been decided, seventy-six refugees have been recognized. This 15.5 percent rate of recognition is not low when compared to other major signatories to the Convention.

Fifty-five others who did not fall under the criteria of a refugee but had reasons preventing their return to their countries of origin were granted humanitarian status to remain in Korea.

As the recognition rate increased, so did the number of asylum-seekers. In 2007 alone a total of 717 asylum cases were registered with the Korean government. Better quality of life from Korea's democratization and economic development, among other factors, may account for this increase.

Consequently, there has also been an increase in the number of fraudulent asylum cases abusing the system, of which the government must be wary.

For example, Mr. X entered Korea as an industrial trainee in 1995 and had been illegally residing in Korea for 9 years when he claimed asylum in 2005.

He had been absent without leave from his workplace since 1996. He left Korea this April after the civil court ruled in favor of the government's decision not to grant him refugee status. This was three years after his initial asylum claim.

According to the Refugee Convention, a refugee is a person who ``owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of their nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, unwilling to avail him/herself of the protection of that country.'

The determination of a person's refugee status requires great effort and professional knowledge about the asylum-seeker and his country of origin. An increase in fraudulent cases calls for even greater care in the process. In this light the government is sparing no effort to make the refugee status determination (RSD) system more efficient.

In addition, the government aims to amend existing legislation to provide adequate protection to asylum-seekers and refugees. Going beyond the legal protection of refugees' ``hard' rights, the government seeks to pay heed to their ``soft' rights, such as employment, health, and education, by establishing facilities to provide appropriate assistance. Currently no proper assistance is provided to refugees after their status has been recognized.

June 20 has been designated by the U.N. as World Refugee Day. This is an apt moment for all of us ― the government, legislators, the media, human rights activists, and all citizens and residents of Korea ― to look back on the lives of refugees and seek ways to better protect them.

For we, as respectable members of the international community, have a moral obligation and a humanitarian responsibility to provide protection to the population in need.

Choo Kyu-ho is commissioner of the Korean Immigration Service. He can be reached at khchoo75@moj.go.kr.

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