June 20 2019
National Human Rights Commission Chairperson Choi Young-ae issues statement on World Refugee Day
- Statement calls on government to conduct survey on living conditions of refugees including health insurance coverage and adopt measures to improve refugee access to basic social services -
World Refugee Day is observed on June 20 every year. On December 4 2000, the United Nations General Assembly voted unanimously to designate June 20 as World Refugee Day to raise awareness about the suffering of refugees who were forced to flee their home countries due to persecution based on race, religion, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.
Refugees who are not protected by the country of origin are entitled to seek international protection, in accordance with the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. The primary responsibility for providing international protection lies with the country receiving applications for refugee status. Following its accession to the Convention in 1992, the Republic of Korea introduced an amendment to the country’s Refugee Act in 2012 to comply with the obligations in the Convention.
However, the recognition rate of Korea still remains below 2%, with only 936 of 48,906 applications approved between 1994 and 2018. Moreover, it has not yet been confirmed whether those granted refugee status after a rigorous selection process are living in decent conditions.
The National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) found from its survey on living conditions of refugees in 2018 that while Article 31 of the Refugee Act stipulates that refugees are entitled to the same level of social insurance as Korean nationals, they were not granted adequate access to basic social services. The Commission noted that in a number of cases, the exception clauses of the laws and guidelines relating to social insurance, which exclude foreigners from insurance coverage, were being applied to those approved for refugee status.
Refugees still have limited access to healthcare services, even after the reform of the health insurance system by the Ministry of Health and Welfare in January 2019. Under the new system, those permitted to stay for humanitarian grounds are allowed to purchase individual coverage, but refugees and humanitarian status holders who are in need of special protection are subject to the same unfavorable clauses applied to foreigners residing in Korea, such as the narrow definition of family members and premium calculation formula. The reduction rate is fixed, regardless of individual circumstances, and benefits are suspended after a single missed payment.
Refugees and humanitarian status holders cannot return to their home country anytime soon, so they have to raise a family and earn a living in Korea for a long period of time. Health insurance offers minimum protection for them to live a decent life. Excessive premiums should virtually exclude refugees from healthcare, denying them basic rights such as the rights to health and safety.
Therefore, I would like to call on the government to act promptly to guarantee a decent standard of living for refugees, including through rationalizing the process of setting insurance premiums for refugees and humanitarian status holders, conduct a survey on their living conditions including healthcare coverage to enhance its compliance with the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and actively develop legal and institutional frameworks for dealing with human rights issues of refugees.
The NHRCK will make continued efforts to promote human rights of refugees who fled the persecution in their own countries and came to Korea in search of a better life.
Attachment: Comparison of health insurance programs for Korean nationals and refugee and humanitarian status holders