UN calls for bolstered refugee system in Korea
By Kim Young-jin
The U.N. refugee agency and lawmakers stressed the need for comprehensive legislation to protect refugees’ rights at a National Assembly forum on Nov. 17.
The gathering, cosponsored by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHRC) Seoul bureau and the National Assembly human rights forum, came as a draft of independent legislation on refugee rights is under review by a parliamentary subcommittee.
“Civil society has been active in supporting refugees in Korea,” Anne Mary Campbell, UNHCR representative in Korea said in a speech, “but refugees need the strong support of all of us from a cross-section of society.”
The forum brought together lawmakers, ministry officials and scholars to examine how the new legislation can better address the rights of refugees here.
Some 2,700 people have applied for refugee status in Korea since 1992, when it first opened its doors to asylum seekers. Despite improvements in its refugee system, criticism on its speed, transparency and fairness have persisted.
“While meaningful progress has been made when it comes to refugee status determination, discussion on the protection of their economic, social and cultural rights has not been in place,” Rep. Hwang Woo-yeo of the ruling Grand National Party said.
He added that the prospect of the bill passing during the regular parliamentary term is “very bright.”
The agency also stressed that basic economic, social and cultural rights are guaranteed international law and are not discretionary.
Such rights, according to UNHCR are the “legal translation of daily needs of human beings” and basic necessities such as food, water, shelter and access to health care.
The nation recognized its first refugee in 2001 and granted citizenship to its first refugee in March, 2010.