Is South Korea shirking its responsibilities to refugees?

2008.09.16 14:57

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Is South Korea shirking its responsibilities to refugees?


It is the responsibility of countries to offer safe and humane treatment to asylum seekers driven out by conflict in their countries of origin.
Countries such as South Africa, the United States, Kenya and France recognized from 30,700 to 205,000 refugees in 2006 alone.

But Korea has accepted only a total of 76 refugees - ever.

Where are the refugees? Korea is a peninsula surrounded mainly by oceans, with one border shared with North Korea, where military tension with the South is still a threat. Therefore, diasporas through borders of neighboring countries have not been a common phenomenon on the Korean Peninsula; only people who can enter Korea by plane or ship are able to seek asylum. Nevertheless, there are thousands who do make it here successfully, only to be defeated by the system.

Even after the asylum seekers manage to enter Korea, they are faced with more obstacles once they enter the country.

The time and efforts required of the asylum seekers to be recognized as refugees by the Korean government are extreme. According to a survey conducted in 2004 by Korean NGOs, 73.1 percent of the interviewers - recognized refugees and applicants for refugee status - waited more than one year to be admitted as refugees, and 17.9 percent of them are still waiting for the decision after four to five years.

The time the Korean system requires for the refugee-recognition process can have detrimental effects on certain categories of people. When the National Human Rights Commission visited an immigration detention center to conduct a survey regarding the treatment of detainees in 2007, I met a young man from Ghana.

He had applied for refugee status in 2006 after being detained. Because being a refugee applicant was not a sufficient reason to be released from the immigration detention center - when one had applied for it after being detained - he was awaiting the decision under detention.

When I went to the same detention center to investigate a separate case in the spring of 2008, he was still there struggling to be granted refugee status. After two years in jail, he was finally accepted as a refugee and released from the detention center this June.

When an asylum seeker finally is accepted as a refugee by the government, his or her struggle is not even half over. The labors of daily life and integration have only begun. The major difficulties for refugees are a lack of access to settlement information, welfare protection and social understanding, among others.

The situation is even worse for people who are still struggling in the refugee-recognition process, or people under humanitarian status, who failed to be admitted as refugees but who are granted temporary stay because of the hostile situation in their home countries. I had a chance to learn about a family from Cote d`Ivoire with refugee status who had children of elementary school age. However, the parents were unable to send the children to school because the school told them that it was not ready for their children.

Presumably, society in general is not ready to embrace refugees and some or all categories of migrants. Here are some suggestions to address this issue:

To protect the human rights of asylum seekers, including refugees, and to enhance their integration into society, the government has to set up carefully structured systems and programs for newcomers.

Public education has to be redesigned to help not only the refugees but all migrants. The social security system, especially health care, should be extended to asylum seekers and people with humanitarian status.

The public should be educated about the situation of asylum seekers. A campaign to integrate people from other countries or different ethnic backgrounds into our society should be undertaken.

Most importantly, our concept that dealing with refugees is an option must be jettisoned. Protecting refugees and asylum seekers is not an option. It should not be considered charity.

Humane treatment of refugees is the responsibility of every country.

Susan Kim is an Investigator of the Migration & Human Rights Team at the National Human Rights Commission. Before working as an investigator from 2002-2005, she worked for the International Affairs Division at the Commission. She holds an M.A. in Area Studies from the Graduate School of International Studies, Seoul National University and a B.A. in French from Paichai University. The opinions expressed here in no way reflect those of The Korea Herald. - Ed.

By Susan Kim



2008.09.11

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New perspective needed

2008.01.14 15:44

인권에 봉사하는 마눌님이 코리아 헤럴드 지에 기고한 글.

Home > Weekly >Expat Living 카테고리에 1월 8일자로 올라왔음.  멋져 마눌님....

 

원문 : New perspective needed 

 

 

New perspective needed

 

"Korea has to recognize the multi-ethnic character of contemporary Korean society and overcome the image of Korea as an ethnically homogeneous country, which no longer corresponds to the actual situation existing in Korea." That was the recommendation of the United Nations Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, made in the concluding remarks of the Aug. 17, 2007 period report on Korea.

In July of 2007, the Ministry of Justice announced that there were over 1 million foreigners in Korea, making up over 2 percent of the total population. Of that number, 720,000 were reported to be long-term residents. As the population census begins to reflect the diversity in Korean society, many groups in the public and civil sector are starting to address issues of ethnicity and tolerance.

However, discrimination against foreigners has not diminished, despite these efforts.

In the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, the number of complaints of discrimination against foreigners has been on a steady incline: before 2004, there were less than 10 complaints alleging discrimination against foreigners, while the number rose to 37 in 2005, 46 in 2006, and 59 in the first half of 2007.

One particular complaint involved a restaurant in Seoul that refused to serve customers from a specific country. The Commission concluded that the refusal of service based on national origin or race was discriminatory, and that the restaurant should take measures to prevent the recurrence of such discrimination.

Though the Commission`s efforts are all but part of a much larger whole, why do we not see a reduction in discrimination against foreigners in Korea?

When American football player Hines Ward was named the MVP of the 2006 Super Bowl, many Korean nationals emphasized the need for improved treatment towards "mixed-bloods." I received a call from a woman, whose brother had married with a person from another country, expressing her frustration with the media`s focus on the "pitiful, mixed-blood" children. She explained that her nephew was maliciously harassed in school the day after the 9 p.m. evening news ran a special on "kosians." One person`s gold is another person`s garbage: society`s newfound concern seemed to have caused another form of pain.

One of the most problematic issues is the lack of sensitivity in mainstream society, particularly when discussing racial issues. Those who are not sensitive may use terms like "mixed-blood" or "kosian" to classify other people by race or descent, although efforts from organizations such as the National Human Rights Commission of Korea have pointed out the discriminatory nature of the term "mixed-blood," which is used in the February 2007 Official Opinion on the Bill for Support to Mixed-Blood Families.

Another problematic issue is the actual process of creating race-based classifications, as it brings humiliation to those within the group, and may lead those not inside the group to vilify the insiders as people seeking endless attention, pity or support. While it is notable that there are concerted efforts to assist socially vulnerable groups, there is a fine line between assistance and seemingly unjustifiable subsidy.

Sound support for any minority group can only be built on the principle of equality between the majority and the minority in concern. Children of international marriages need to be treated as equals, not given sympathy for their "situation." Building this foundation firmly will yield benefits for the lives of generations to come.

The National Human Rights Commission of Korea attempts to respond to complaints with action that imbibe, society with the idea that "foreigners" and "Koreans" are equals.

In one case, the complainant stated that he was unjustly rejected for vocational-rehabilitation training only because of his foreigner status. Like many other complaints, the rejection of the training seemed justifiable to the respondent, as foreigners are seen as "strangers" and not members of society. This mindset extended to the idea that "foreigners are not entitled to receive social services" in this particular case.

Though the complainant could have received the rehabilitation training, it is only one drop in the bucket. Similar complaints are still received at the Commission on a regular basis.

Immigrants are, and have been, sound members of our community. Korea must acknowledge foreigners and all minorities, including racial and ethnic minorities, as full members of society, and recognize all groups for their contributions to this and future generations of Korea.

It is recognition long overdue.

 

By Susan Kim

 

Susan Kim works with the National Human Rights Commission of Korea as an investigator on the Migration and Human Rights Team. - Ed.



2008.01.08

 

 

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