As of July 1, 2013, the Refugee Act of the Republic of Korea, the first stand-alone law on refugees in the Asia region, went into effect, establishing a process for refugee recognition consistent with the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (the Refugee Convention). The introduction of Korea’s refugee law helps to establish a more solid foundation for the country’s refugee system, and enables greater human rights protection for refugees.
The term “Refugee” refers to an alien who is unable or unwilling to avail him/ herself of the protection of his/her country of nationality owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion; or who, not having a nationality, is unable or, owing to such fear, unwilling to return to the country of his/her former residence prior to entry into the Republic of Korea.
The Republic of Korea signed both the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees (the Refugee Protocol) on December 3, 1992, each of which entered into force on March 3, 1993.
Provisions regarding refugees were first established in the Immigration Control Act and its Enforcement Decree on December 10, 1993. Following the enactment of the Refugee Act on February 10, 2012, the Refugee Act subsequently entered into force on July 1, 2013. The Korean.
The Korean Government established the Refugee Division under the Ministry of Justice on June 12, 2013 to pursue and implement refugee policies consistent with Korea’s growing role on the world stage.
The year 2013 has been especially meaningful for the Republic of Korea, as we have been elected as the Chair nation of the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner’s Program (ExCom), and are therefore shouldering greater responsibility in the arena of global refugee policy.
In accordance with the Refugee Act of Korea, aliens who fall within the refugee definition will, upon their application, be recognized as refugees after undergoing evaluation by Refugee Status Determination (RSD) officers. Once recognized, the refugees are entitled to treatment specified under the Refugee Act and protection pursuant to the Refugee Convention.
Moreover, the Refugee Act of Korea guarantees the right to appeal in case of the denial of the application, while allowing applicants to stay in Korea during appeal procedures by providing them with refugee applicant status.
Under the Refugee Act, aliens can apply for refugee status at ports of entry as well as Immigration Offices, Immigration Branch Offices, and Immigration Detention Centers. Applicants are entitled to receive assistance from an attorney during their RSD procedures, be accompanied by a trusted person in interviews, and receive interpretation service from qualified interpreters.
Under the law, recognized refugees are entitled to social security and basic living security services, and may receive social integration training to help their integration. Their academic credentials and qualifications earned abroad may also be partially or fully recognized here in Korea. The spouse and minor children of recognized refugees are also entitled to receive permission to enter Korea.
Humanitarian status holders are now eligible to receive permission to engage in employment activities, while refugee status applicants may receive support such as living expenses, access to residential facilities, medical services and access to primary and secondary education.
Moreover, the Ministry of Justice has recently established and is operating a refugee support center to provide refugee applicants with better support for their initial settlement and livelihood, as well as to embrace smoother social integration of recognized refugees.