Raising awareness for foreign refugees in Korea

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Raising awareness for foreign refugees in Korea

Mr. Yombi Thona, a refugee here in Korea, said, “We as foreigners know what the Japanese did in this land. Japan should be brought to International Criminal Court to face charges for their crimes. We understand that. But at the same time, it is strange to see that Korean people resent Japanese abuses all the while doing the same to us.”

Mr. Thona was forced to live a life of an exile when he became a victim of political turmoil in the Republic of Congo. After spending several days struggling to keep his identity secret in China, he was elated to hear that he could possibly gain refugee status in South Korea. Due to an inefficient refugee acceptance system, he had to spend twelve grueling years trying to be accepted as a refugee all the while struggling to get a job and stay alive.

He has finally received refugee status, and Section 4 of the Refugee Law in South Korea clearly states that refugees are guaranteed basic rights. But the reality is quite different.

“I go to a place to find work, and they tell me that I’m not Korean. I tell them that there’s a refugee law that says I’m a Korean [citizen] now, but they don’t care.”

By the end of 2012, only 320 out of 5069 applicants have been accepted as official refugees. In 1967, South Korea signed the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees and has been accepting refugees ever since. By signing this protocol, South Korea agreed to provide support and security for political refugees who would seek asylum in Korea.

Sometimes when I hold small publicity activities in the streets to raise public awareness of refugees, I get a lot of people asking me, “Are there refugees in Korea?” And when I explain that refugees are often denied entrance to Korea during the identification process because of ridiculous reasons - such as lack of documents or their translations - or that most people lucky enough to get refugee status in Korea sometimes can’t even find jobs, they are all surprised.

We must raise Korean awareness. If Korean people had the chance to see how refugees struggle in Korea to maintain even minimum standards of living, they would change their minds. With enough people supporting the cause for refugees, we can make a difference.

by Kim Dong-youp , Student at Hanyoung Foreign Language High School
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