Gov’t takes steps to bring in Burmese refugees

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Gov’t takes steps to bring in Burmese refugees

The Ministry of Justice announced on Monday that it will bring to Korea an initial group of some 30 refugees from Myanmar currently in a Thai border camp by the end of the year and support their resettlement in the country.

The ministry said it is currently reviewing Burmese candidates at a refugee camp in Mae Sot, Thailand, who qualify to receive refugee status in Korea through a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) resettlement program.

The first group of refugees is expected to arrive in the country in December, with more to come later.

“Up to 90 refugees will be brought into Korea over the next three years through 2017,” a ministry official said.

Resettlement states are obligated to provide refugees under the program with legal and physical protection, which includes rights similar to those of the country’s nationals.

This will make Korea the second Asian country after Japan, which joined in 2010, to participate in the UNHCR resettlement program.

Earlier this year, Korea announced that it would launch a three-year resettlement pilot program, joining 28 countries worldwide, including the United States, Australia and Canada, involved in the UNHCR project.

Individuals in refugee camps abroad who wish to resettle in Korea can apply to the UNHCR to become eligible for the program.

The Korean government began reviewing documents for refugee candidates selected by the UNHCR last month. It will send officials to the border camp to interview the candidates and conduct health examinations.

The refugees approved will be provided with legal and physical protection by the Korean government and will be granted F-2 residency status visas, according to the official.

During their first year in Korea, they will have the opportunity to receive job education and learn the Korean language and culture via the resettlement program.

UNHCR Korea’s budget for the refugee program in 2015 is $2.16 million.

Since Korea started receiving refugees in 1994, it has granted refugee status to 522 people who have entered the country.

Korea became the first Asian country to pass refugee protection legislation in 2012 when it passed the Refugee Act, though it has accepted a dismally low percentage of refugee status applications.

This recent measure may signal that Korea may be considering taking a more active stance on accommodating refugees.

The ministry said it will decide if the program will be continued regularly based on response to the pilot program.

According to the UNHCR, in 2014 there were 103,890 refugees under consideration by resettlement countries; its main beneficiaries included those from Syria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Myanmar.

The agency estimates that there are 3.5 million refugees in the Asia-Pacific region alone.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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