Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 October 2016, 14:47 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2003 - South Korea

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 June 2003
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2003 - South Korea , 1 June 2003, available at: [accessed 27 October 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

South Korea hosted more than 1,200 refugees and asylum seekers at the end of 2002, almost all North Koreans. The remainder included 72 asylum seekers from various countries whose claims were pending, 2 persons recognized as refugees by South Korea, 8 with temporary humanitarian residency (including 2 recognized as refugees by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees [UNHCR]), and 2 other UNHCR-recognized refugees.

The 1,141 North Koreans who entered South Korea during the year was nearly double the number in 2001. North Korean defectors are automatically considered South Korean citizens.

Most North Koreans transited through China, and then through other countries such as Thailand, Burma, or Mongolia, before traveling to South Korea.

At least 150 North Koreans entered or attempted to enter various diplomatic compounds in China, garnering widespread media attention. China eventually permitted most of the asylum seekers to travel to South Korea, but also took steps to prevent future embassy incidents, increased security along its border with North Korea, and began accelerating forced returns.

During the year, lawmakers from South Korea joined counterparts from Japan and the United States in pressing China to stop forcibly returning North Koreans, to grant UNHCR unhindered access to the asylum seekers, and to establish refugee camps.

Under sweeping national security laws, the South Korean government arrests, detains, and harshly interrogates North Koreans it suspects of spying. South Korea's improved relations with North Korea have caused it to be even less inclined towards a generous asylum policy.

South Korea is highly restrictive toward asylum seekers from other parts of the world. In 2001, South Korea issued its first asylum grant since the country became a party to the UN Refugee Convention in 1992. (The government does not require North Koreans to apply for asylum.)

In 2002, the government received 34 new asylum applications. Of the cases adjudicated (including pending cases from the previous year), the government granted one asylum claim, rejected six, and granted temporary residence for humanitarian reasons to eight persons. At year's end, 72 cases were pending.

Government-recognized refugees receive one-year temporary residence visas, renewable for up to a total of three years, after which the refugee may apply for permanent residence. While in temporary status, the refugee may work if he or she finds a job and immigration authorities approve employment in that field. The refugee may enroll in the national health insurance program; however, at the end of 2002, such assistance had not yet been provided to refugees, and government officials said the coverage might not be as complete as that provided to citizens.

Temporary humanitarian status, which the government initiated in 2001, is for persons who, for various reasons – often including conflict in their home countries – are not granted refugee status, but are in need of international protection. Holders of this status have no right to work. The one-year visa is renewable as long as the government deems it necessary.

During the year, the government approved a budget that would allow asylum seekers to receive a small amount of medical assistance beginning in 2003.

Most asylum seekers in South Korea have been from Bangladesh, China, Congo-Kinshasa, and Burma. The two government-recognized refugees are Africans.

During the year, the government expanded the decision-making body for asylum applications – the Refugee Recognition Council (RRC) – to include legal academics and members of the Bar association. The RRC expansion resulted in the one new refugee recognition during 2002, as well as the decision to grant temporary humanitarian protection for eight persons, said UNHCR. The government solicited opinions from UNHCR in a number of cases.

During the year, a change in the filing deadline – from 60 days to one year – became effective.

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