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[Focus] Seoul refugee office is itself a refugee

Posted December. 20, 2000 13:43,   


The Seoul liaison office of the international refugee organization has itself become a refugee.

The Seoul liaison office for the Korean and Japanese area headquarters of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has been thrown out onto the streets due to the closure of the U.N. Development and Planning`s Seoul office building in the Hannam area of Seoul, an international disgrace for Korea.

The UNHCR was established in 1951 in order to oversee and protect the refugees according to the international accord on the treatment of refugees. Korea joined the organization in 1992. The Seoul liaison office of the UNHCR found a home in the office building of another U.N. office building, the U.N. Development and Planning (UNDP) office in Korea.

However, due to the reduction in the financial support by the Korean government, the UNDP has had to cut back and relocate its operation elsewhere, leaving the UNHCR out on the streets.

"Upon receiving previous notification of UNDP`s relocation plan, although I have made various requests to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, I did not receive any answers," Jung Hyun-Jung, the liaison officer of the UNHCR Seoul office, said Tuesday.

An association of lawyers for democratic society and other human rights organizations have lashed out that this is a prime example of the duality in the government`s human right policy.

In June, Korea became a formal executor nation of the UNHCR executive directorial board. Also, with next year marking the 50-year anniversary of the UNHCR, many human rights organizations are fearing harsh criticisms of the international community.

Jung is officially employed by the UNHCR Japan-Korea District Office and dispatched to the Seoul office of the UNHCR. Those seeking refugee status visited the liaison office for counseling also submitted their complaints and applications through the office. Jung also maintained various contacts with relief aid organizations to provide homes for those seeking refugee status.

With the closure of the office, the UNHCR no longer is able to provide refugee relief and aid counseling nor even to provide any liaison to other offices. The office lacks phones, fax machines and even an address.

This year alone, those seeking refugee status numbered 50 at the Seoul office, and recently the nations from which the refugees were fleeing has expanded to include the Middle East and Africa.

"The liaison officer Jung had been utilizing the UNDP office without any provisions and was unable to relocate to the new building as the UNDP scaled down its operation," an anonymous source at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said. "At the new building, the office mainly provided liaison services and did not provide any independent services. Also, for the purpose of convenience, an office space was offered at the new building."

Lee Soo-Hyung sooh@donga.com