Forum On Reception Standards For Refugees
A forum on Reception Standards for Refugees was held in Seoul at Sookmyueng Women University, on November 28, 2013, co-organized by the Korea Immigration Service of the Ministry of Justice and UNHCR Korea. The forum started with opening remarks by Dirk Hebecker, the UNHCR Representative in Korea.
The Senior Regional Legal Officer, UNHCR Geneva, Liv Feijen, made a presentation entitled, “Refugee protection and reception standards.” According to global displacement trends for 2012, there were 479,300 asylum applications in 44 industrialized countries. The top five countries of origin for refugees were 1) Afghanistan (36,600), 2) Syria (24,800), 3) Serbia and Kosovo(24,300), China (24,100) and 5) Pakistan (23,200). The top five host countries were 1) USA (83,000), 2) Germany (64,500), 3) France (54,000), 4) Sweden (43,000) and 5) the UK (27,400). In Asia, Australia, Japan and South Korea hosted 15,790, 2,540 and 1,140, respectively.
Feijen pointed out those asylum seekers should enjoy an adequate standard of living throughout the asylum procedure. For example, certain basic rights such as living and food according to international law article 25 of UDHR, ICESCR and ICCPR. Feijen further elaborated minimum living standards, by country, such as medical assistance, work permits and vocation training (which should be appropriate so that even if they go back home, they can continue for work).
According to UNHCR Executive Conclusion No. 92 (LIII) of 2002 on Reception of Asylum Seekers, Feijen explained that regardless of asylum seekers status, each person applying should be treated as potential refugee, and, if recognized, the person should get a chance for naturalization in the respective host country. The UNHCR used to take joint decisions by consensus, said Feijen. The primary responsibility for that assistance lies with the state government.
However, if a refugee has committed a crime, the person should face court judgment, as applicable under local laws, Feijen clarified. Feijen strongly warned that asylum seekers should not be detained or deported to their country of origin. She also emphasized the importance of the media’s role in advocating for refugees in the local community and
around the world. She further explained that the UNHCR conducts training sessions and works together with host governments for accepting and facilitating asylum seekers.
From the South Korean government offices, a representative from the Refugee Division of the Korea Immigration Service, Jae Hyun Lee, gave a presentation called, “Management of the Immigration Reception Center and refugee reception in Korea Refugee Law.” In South Korea, only an 8% rate of refugee applicants are recognized. Refugee status application at the airport is possible, Mr. Lee added. At the moment, the government budget allocated for refugee applicants is for about 6 months of assistance, and the ministry of justice may consider further extensions, said Mr. Lee. Employment permit certificates will be issued by the ministry of justice, and health check ups and emergency services can be extended for 3 months, said Mr. Lee.
Mr. Lee acknowledges the lack of a counseling center for refugee applicants, and the existence of psychological problems due to the terrifying environment back in their country of origin. Mr. Lee also agreed that a refugee applicant’s employment status is important. Related to refugee applicant’s registration and identity card extension, it should be enough by just requesting a recommendation letter or certificate for resident address verification.
Mr. Lee feels xenophobia is an issue among Koran society, and poses the greatest obstacle for integration and hosting refugees in the peninsula. The Korean Government has not even established a refugee center, but instead has an immigration reception center for refugee services on Yeoujung island, which can also used by recognized refugees. Recognized refugee children can go to elementary, middle and high schools for free. For higher education and university study, stipends have not yet been arranged but other support, such as that available through the ministry of education, can be applied for through the Refugee division at the Immigration office, said Mr. Lee. Moreover, the ministry of education and HRD, with cooperation with foreign affairs, can handle refugees’ academic qualification issues, for those who have no academic certificates. Recognized refugees can also go for the Korea Integration program for 6 months for twice a week Korean language classes. For refugee employment and health issues, registration is required with the ministry of labor and the ministry of health, said Mr. Lee. And he argued that local government might be not actively participate for supporting refugees. Mr. Lee also confessed the important of the media for advocating refugee issue in South Korea. He welcomes experts to write in the newspaper about refugee issues and to support public awareness programs.
Anne la Cour Vagen, Head of the Asylum Department for the Danish Red Cross explained about asylum reception arrangements in Denmark. In Denmark, an average 50% of the asylum seekers are recognized refugees. The Danish Red Cross has provided accommodation to asylum seekers in Denmark since 1984. Currently there are 14 centers, and 9 other centers are also run by local authorities. The Danish Red Cross provides dignified daily life to asylum seekers, while they await the authorities’ decision to their asylum application. After registration at the reception centre, they are provided with accommodation, clothes, hygienic supplies and household equipment,
medical examinations, sports activities, school and training services, and even cash allowances are provided. Moreover, the Danish government provides flight tickets for a refugee family uniting program, to unite them with their families in Denmark.
For integration with local Denish people, Anne suggests communication with local people is important. For example, local people were worried about the location of an asylum seeker center with 100 single African men. The center was located near to a girls riding training center, but one of the African gentleman explained that they respected the girls nearby their center, so its fine and no problem had occured, said Anne. Further, Anne recommends the importance of cooperation between civil society and the authorities.
Attorney at Law, Gong-Gam, Pill-Kyu Hawng pointed out that because of the Korean government’s failure to provide for refugee applicant reception and assistance for refugees, there was less recognition and high application withdrawal, 1 out of 4, and no more assistance can be applied in that year. Currently, government budgets called for a controlling refugee center called an immigration assistance center, but has not provided assistance for other existing centers, and still has not provided for a service center facility, staff and so on. He further mentioned the need of a more balanced policy for refugee reception in the peninsula, especially with regard to xenophobia. Actually, there are statistics and data which show that the Korean criminal rate was twice that of foreigners, Hwang revealed.
Park Song-hee also identified the isolation of refugees from the local community, and said that refugees are considered as others from a foreign society. Local government has no specific regulations for refugee resident here. The Gyeonggi government created a refugee act, but still refers to them as other foreigners and offers very little support.
Kyung Ock Chun, Chair of Amnesty International Korea, gave a presentation related to refugee issues as a part of human rights. For example, poverty violates a lot of human rights, it’s also a global issue and impacts international law. Also she called it as human insecurity, consequent of political violence, culture and religious conflict. Therefore, people should have a sense of responsibility, as well as community responsibility for social welfare and employment rights for refugees, she explained. During the meeting, Chinese asylum seekers also voiced concern regarding the persecution of Falungong religion followers in China.
Friends of UNHCR attended the“Refugee Conference”at the National Assembly
Jae Hyun Lee, Korea Immigration Service, speaks at the Refugee Conference in Sookmyung Women
Education Minister Hwang Woo-yea speaks at the “Refugee Conference”