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NHRCK Chairperson’s Statement on
World Refugee Day
- More protection is needed for the refugees and the survivability of the refugee applicants reapplying for refugee status has to be ensured -
The National Human Rights Commission of Korea (Chairperson Doohwan Song, hereinafter the ‘NHRCK’ or the ‘Commission’) hereby releases the statement celebrating World Refugee Day(June 20) to call on the Government of the Republic of Korea to reinforce its role on protecting refugee rights and improving the systems for the refugee applicants reapplying for refugee status.
The United Nations adopted the ‘1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees’ and marked June 20 as the ‘World Refugee Day’ on 4 December 2000, to raise international awareness on refugees, who were forced to leave their homeland as they were persecuted for their ethnicities, religions and political beliefs.
With complex international affairs, the number of refugee applicants in Korea shows increase every year. Korean government, however, has been consistently receiving comments from the International Human Rights Committees, including the Human Rights Committee and the Committee on the Elimination on all Forms of Racial Discrimination, for lack of expertise on refugee screening, insufficient translation, prolonged screening process and extremely low refugee recognition rate(under 2%).
The insufficient systems act as huge obstacles for the refugee applicants who had no choice but to leave their countries out of desperation. Over half of the refugees are filing administrative litigations or raising objections as the refugees’ statements and the current status of their country of origin were not fully taken into consideration in the refugee screening process. The number of refugee applicants reapplying for refugee screening continues to rise.
Refugee applicants are given legal status and stay permit in Korea pursuant to the Article 2 of the ’Refugee Act’. The applicants reapplying for refugee screening should be granted the same status as the other applicants unless otherwise, since the law specifically applied to the re-applicants is nonexistent.
However, with the view that the policies on refugees may be abused, since there are no limits on the number of applications a refugee can file for refugee screening, Korean government made the ‘Management on the Stay of Abusive Refugee Applicants’, which is a guideline part of the ‘Guidance on Refugee Screening, Treatment and Stay’. For those who fall under the guidance stated, Korea disapproves the extension of the period of stay and takes postponement measure every 3 to 6 months on granting the extension on the date for departure.
According to the immigration statistics from the Ministry of Justice, 2,341 refugee applications were filed in 2021 and 1,044 cases were the reapplication for refugee screening. The time taken for a screening process was 17.3 months on average. If a refugee who is reapplying for screening files a lawsuit, the screening process takes even longer, with the refugee left at a vulnerable status. The right to live may be jeopardized in the screening and legal process, since there is no way for the refugees to properly identify themselves in Korea, let alone getting a job.
Even with the reason for Korean government’s decision to apply the guidance controlling refugee applicants who are improperly using the application process, which is due to the congested refugee screening process, is considered, applying such limitations on the re-applicants show the government is not taking enough measures to protect the refugees in Korea. The measures may also violate the principle of non-refoulement and violate the rights of all refugee applicants.
Recognizing the gravity of the issue, the Commission provided opinions to the Minister of Justice on 13 May 2022 that refugees in re-screening process needs way to properly identify themselves in Korea and the formulation of the policies for the re-applicants to maintain life in Korea, including the measures to grant work permit, is needed.
As we remember and celebrate World Refugee Day, the Commission calls for the overall improvement on the refugee screening system by increasing manpower and further developing relevant infrastructures, breaking away from the perception that the application and reapplication for refugee screening are mere means to extend the period of stay in Korea. The Commission also calls on the government to take measures to prevent prolonged refugee screening process.
The National Human Rights Commission of Korea hopes the government’s role on humanitarian support expands, so as to ensure the rights and dignity of the refugee applicants and those who are reapplying for the process. The Commission will do its part in sustaining and improving refugee policies that matches with the international human rights standard.