NHRCK Chairperson’s Statement on World Refugee Day(June 20)
–Statement stresses need to protect status of humanitarian status holders and treat them in accordance with international standards–
The National Human Rights Commission of Korea(Chairperson Young-ae Choi) releases the following statement on the occasion of World Refugee Day on June 20 2021.
On December 4 2020, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution naming June 20 as World Refugee Day to raise global awareness of refugees who have been forced to flee their homes to escape persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group and political opinion.
The United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, which was adopted in 1951, states that the recipient countries have a primary responsibility to protect refugees who have left their home countries due to persecution.
With changing international political landscapes, there are a growing number of individuals who are at risk of serious harm upon return such as persecution, although they are not directly mentioned in the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. Several human rights treaties, including the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, expanded the range of people in need of international protection. A number of States have since offered complementary forms of protection for these types of refugees. Korea has also introduced a provision relating to humanitarian stay permits under the Refugee Act to allow those seeking protection to stay on humanitarian grounds.
Since 1994 through 2020, a total of 2,370 people have obtained humanitarian visas in Korea. A vast majority of Yemeni refugees who arrived on Jeju Island to escape a civil war in their homes in April 2018 were granted humanitarian visas. A survey on the situation of humanitarian status holders in Korea, which was conducted by the Commission in 2019, revealed that those staying on humanitarian visas have reasons that make it impossible for them to return to their homes and that they face multiple challenges during their stay in Korea.
Data from the Ministry of Justice shows that more than 60 percent of humanitarian status holders in Korea are long-term residents that stay for over 3 years and conditions in their home countries are unlikely to improve in the near future to enable their return.
Humanitarian status holders are staying on a G-1 visa, which allows them to live in Korea for up to one year. Thus, they have to renew their status every few months or every year. Furthermore, as a temporary resident, they are often unable to purchase cell phone plans, insurance coverage or credit cards.
Employment conditions of humanitarian status holders are little different from those of asylum seekers. Even if the humanitarian visa they obtained is a government approval to grant them international protection, they still need an employment permit to get a job in Korea, for which the employer should provide documentation such as an employment contract and a business license to the authorities. These strict regulations deepen their financial difficulties.
To address these challenges, the Commission decided at its Standing Commission meeting on June 10 2021 to issue a series of recommendations to the Minister of Justice including: 1) amending the Refugee Act and relevant laws to protect the status of individuals staying on humanitarian visas and treat them in accordance with the provisions on complementary forms of protection under international norms; and 2) revising related guidelines for the extension of their stays, relaxation of employment requirements and simplification of recruitment processes before the introduction of amendments to relevant laws.
The government acknowledges the need to enhance the conditions of refugees and humanitarian status holders and considers adopting a range of measures for this purpose. The Ministry of Justice conducted a study on overseas practices related to complementary forms of refugee protection last year.
The Commission hopes that the recommendations we release will help accelerate government efforts to introduce measures for humanitarian status holders.