Country welcomes 22 refugees

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Country welcomes 22 refugees

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A joyous homecoming- A group of 22 Karen refugees who fled Myanmar land at Incheon International Airport on Wednesday morning. Their arrival marks the first time Korea has permitted refugees to resettle here through an initiative led by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.[PARK JONG-KEUN]

When Kh Too landed on domestic soil Wednesday at Incheon International Airport, one of his first messages to local media was as modest as wishing to “be ordinary.”

For a man who fled Myanmar in 1993 and had spent the past two decades living in a refugee camp, it was perhaps the best he could possibly hope for.

The 43-year-old arrived in Korea in the morning with his wife, five children and a niece as part of the first group of refugees to be resettled here through an initiative led by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

“I feel alive. I deeply thank Korea for inviting us, and for embracing us,” said Kh Too, who only goes by one name, as he took his first step as an F-2 visa holder.

For the next six to 12 months, he and his family will be under care of the Korea Immigration Service and receive job training and Korean-language courses.

Korea on Wednesday became the 29th country in the world and second in Asia after Japan to accept refugees through the Refugee Act, which stipulates that the government accept refugees recommended through the program led by the UNHCR.

The Justice Ministry said in April that it would accommodate 30 refugees annually in the next three years as part of a pilot program.

The 22 Karen refugees had all fled Myanmar and until this week had been living in the Mae La refugee camp in Thailand.

The group comprises of four families - 11 adults and 11 children, with the youngest just 1 year old.

“It was too dangerous to live in Myanmar,” Kh Too said. “There was too much war. I had no other choice but to leave and reach the refugee camp.

“Life at the camp was difficult. I couldn’t freely leave the grounds.”

Kh Too fled Myanmar to escape oppression from the country’s military junta, which persecuted the Karen people and other ethnic minority groups, according to the Justice Ministry.

When asked whether he was interested in Korean culture, Kh Too said that he assumed it “would be easy to adjust to Korean life,” given that both cultures share similarities.

“I haven’t put much thought into my future yet. I’m first planning to fit in here, and then I’ll gradually ponder how I’ll make a living.

“Gamsahamnida [Thank you].”

BY JANG HYUK-JIN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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