Last Updated: Friday, 21 October 2016, 15:45 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2004 - South Korea

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 25 May 2004
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2004 - South Korea , 25 May 2004, available at: [accessed 22 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 some 1,670 refugees and asylum seekers at the end of 2003, almost all North Koreans.

The remainder included 139 asylum seekers from various countries whose claims were pending, 12 persons recognized as refugees by South Korea, 5 recognized by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and 9 others with other forms of protection. Eighty-six individuals applied for asylum during the year.

North Koreans

Under its constitution, South Korea deems all North Korean defectors South Korean citizens. Most North Koreans transited through China, and then through other countries such as Thailand, Myanmar, or Mongolia before traveling to South Korea. In October, the South Korean Embassy in Beijing temporarily shut down consular services in Beijing – ceasing to issue visas to South Korea for Chinese citizens – for two weeks because of the large number of North Koreans seeking asylum. South Korean diplomats hoped the closure would pressure China to speed up the approval process to allow North Koreans who sought refuge at the embassy safe passage out of China.

In July, two North Koreans reached South Korea by boat, and one crossed over by land – a rare occurrence because the inter-Korean borders are heavily patrolled.

Other Asylum Seekers

South Korea is highly restrictive toward asylum seekers from other parts of the world. However, the government improved its handling of applications during the year with close cooperation with UNHCR and by expanding the decision-making body for asylum claims to include non-governmental experts. The government also suspended deportations for cases under review by UNHCR, and for those UNHCR accepted after review. Nevertheless, problems remained, including incompetent and non-impartial translators, lack of information about the process for claimants, and instances where officials told claimants without a hearing that they had no reason to seek asylum.

The government gives refugees the right to work, as well as national health insurance. During the year it started a limited public assistance program for refugees and asylum seekers.

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