Korea’s Stance on Refugees

Amidst growing sentiments against increasing border restrictions around the world, is it finally time to examine Korea’s persisting stance against immigrants and refugees?

Over the last few days, news of immigration bans and Muslim watch-lists has filled the news cycle in what has become a very bizarre turn of events in the US. President Trump, on January 28th, decreed an executive order that called for the halting of all immigrants coming from 7 countries: Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, all of which are Muslim majority nations. Even individuals who held green-cards or visas were barricaded from the country, and foreigners who held dual citizenship with one of those countries were denied access.

In response to this seemingly xenophobic public policy, thousands of protesters rallied to airports in order to call for the repeal of the act. Protesters, along with judges from organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union, camped in airports and adjacent regions in order to signal their disagreement with the Trump Administration’s order. Thankfully, the order has been deemed unconstitutional by federal judges, with immigrants previously detained now being allowed entry into the country.

Although this story may seem like a far-off issue, it is much closer to home than it may appear. In fact, Korea has been criticized by the international community for its strict policies on refugee entrances. South Korea has enabled some refugees from countries such as Syria to reside in Korea under so-called humanitarian visas, annually renewable documents that limit refugees’ from finding work. Essentially, it allows such refugees to live in the country without financial support, housing, or health care.

Since the 1990’s, Korea has only accepted 600 non-Korean refugees out of 18,800 asylum applicants. If we look at Syria, a war-torn country that is at the headlines whenever news related to refugees is released, Korea has only accepted 3 refugees among the thousands who have tried to find a safe haven. The number has remained stagnant even after former President Park Geun Hye announced in 2014 that Korea would “pitch in to help resettle millions of Syrian refugees fleeing the Syrian Civil War.”

The Korean government’s stance on the issue has been one of shifting the responsibility.

“The point of the policy is to ensure that these Syrians will return home once the civil war is over, so not to make their life here too comfortable,” said Kim Sung In, secretary general of Nancen, a refugee advocacy group in Seoul. “It essentially leaves them to fend for themselves.”

What Korea’s restrictive refugee policies has created is a limbo state in which refugees are not sure if they will be able to find protection if they take the risk of journeying to Korea’s borders. In June 2016, CNN reported that Syrian refugees who had fled the al-Assad regime’s violence and terror were stuck at the Incheon airport, not sure of whether they would be given safe passage into the country, or whether they would be flung out to find another country that would take them in. The conditions they were left in were no better, as those refugees had to get by without a bed, without sufficient hygienic care, and with just bread, as the only food they were given were burgers, something forbidden under Islamic Law.

It is unsure when Korea will re-examine its stance on refugees, or even if it can. But while refugees and immigrants are being banned on live TV in the US, refugees back at home are being discreetly turned away.

Written by Ye Chan Song

Featured Image by CNN

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