The Korean government should immediately abolish the Refugee Amendment Bill that promotes racism
On December 17 2021, the Ministry of Justice introduced the Bill to amend the current Refugee Act. The Bill which was initiated in 2018 as an answer to the xenophobic sentiments made by those who were unfamiliar with Yemeni refugees, has been opposed by refugees and the civil society organizations, as well as the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, UNHCR, and lawyers’ groups, including the Korean Bar Association and the Lawyers for a Democratic Society. The Ministry of Justice went ahead with the proposal despite such opposition, and is now trying to force it through the National Assembly.
The Refugee Amendment Bill is aimed at providing a legal basis for deportation of refugees which is already prevalent, and stigmatizing the asylum-seekers as “abusive applicants” to reject their applications. The key provision of the Bill is the introduction of the "inadmissibility determination" procedure, which prevents asylum-seekers from being properly reviewed and interviewed. If passed, it is likely to result in the deportation of all refugees who failed to prove themselves because they had not been subject to any assistance.
The Republic of Korea is the country with one of the lowest refugee recognition rates among OECD countries, with less than 1% of refugees being recognized each year. Most asylum-seekers are not able to get any assistance during the refugee status determination procedure, nor do they receive translation and interpretation support. The need for improvement of the refugee status determination procedure has been consistently raised both nationally and internationally, as refugees are not given proper opportunities to present evidence, express themselves and explain their situation. Instead of making efforts to improve the current system, however, the government is trying to worsen the situation by preventing re-applications. With the Bill, approximately 99% of failed asylum-seekers without any assistance will be repatriated without any further opportunities for review.
Since the enactment of the Refugee Act, the government has made efforts to limit opportunities and create barriers for refugees, rather than ensure the rights of refugees and asylum-seekers. The Ministry of Justice has issued and spread the guidelines that systematically deteriorate the refugee status determination procedure, resulting in the tainted and manipulated procedure what should be a fair, transparent and professional. Victims of inadequate procedure were stigmatized as abusive applicants, deprived of their right to stay, and pressured to leave by threatening their survival. And in 2023, on the 10th anniversary of the Refugee Act, the government is rushing to pass the Refugee Amendment Bill to erect barriers by preventing re-application.
The Korean government and the National Assembly has proudly introduced the Refugee Act as the first independent refugee law implementing the Refugee Convention in Asia. Without any proper refugee policies, and with insufficient support for overseas refugees, the enactment and implementation of the Refugee Act was the only achievement made by the Korean government that it can at least pretend that it has somewhat advanced system. With the Refugee Amendment Bill, however, the government is trying to shake up the very foundation of the Refugee Act. If passed, the Act is no longer a human rights law, but the law repatriating refugees.
Now, the National Assembly should do its part to ensure that the values of the Refugee Act are undermined or ruined. The Refugee Act as a human rights law must not go backwards, but must move forward to protect the rights of refugees.
We strongly condemn the Korean government’ incitement and use of hate-speech when it is supposed to prevent xenophobia and make efforts to improve the system. Standing in solidarity, the civil society will not allow the enactment of the Refugee Amendment Bill that repatriates refugees. The Korean government should immediately withdraw and abolish the Refugee Amendment Bill that promotes racism.