Accept more refugees

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Accept more refugees

Four Burmese families who have been staying at a refugee camp in Thailand arrived at Incheon International Airport Wednesday morning. The 22 people are the first foreigners who have entered Korea under our new Refugee Act, which took effect in July 2013. Refugee resettlement programs under the law allow the government to accept overseas refugees after reviewing their intentions following recommendations from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Upon arriving in Korea, they are issued F-2 visas for residing in Korea and receive educations in basic Korean language and local laws for up to 12 months. The resettlement program led by the UN organization is being implemented in 28 countries around the globe. With the enactment of the law, Korea became the second in Asia after Japan to run the humanitarian program.

According to the UNHCR, the world faces its worst-ever refugee crisis since World War II, as evidenced by the stunning number of refugees - more than 60 million - around the globe, a nearly twofold increase compared to a decade ago. About 13.5 million refugees emerged from Syria alone due to the five-year civil war. A massive influx of refugees to Europe - amounting to more than 1 million - is causing a big headache to the continent because it goes beyond Europe’s capacity to accommodate them. The refugee issue, together with terrorism by the Islamic State (ISIS), has emerged as one of the most serious challenges in the world.

The Korean government’s decision to accommodate refugees through its own resettlement programs deserves praise. It clearly demonstrates a will to join the international community’s efforts to resolve the problem. Our government plans to accept approximately 30 refugees annually for three years. But the number is obviously too small given the size of our economy. Considering our low birthrate, the government needs to accept more refugees.

The government’s excessively strict deliberation on whether to accept refugees is behind the global standard. Among 9,155 applications for refugee status from people who have lived in Korea for five years, only 331 have been granted. Of course, authorities must separate economic refugees from those who are escaping political or religious persecution. But Korea’s approval rate of 3.6 percent is much lower than the world’s average of over 30 percent. If the government increases the quota for refugees and systematically supports their resettlement, it could help build an attractive, multicultural society.

JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 24, Page 34

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