Go to contents

[Op-Ed] Refugee Support Center

Posted January. 12, 2010 08:37,   


Barclays, Britain`s second-largest bank, has survived the global financial crisis thanks to Diana Jenkins, a former refugee from Bosnia. She attracted 7.3 billion pounds in investment from royal families in the Middle East whom she knew for a long time. This helped save the bank, where her husband works. Fleeing to the U.K. in 1993 after civil war broke out in Yugoslavia, Jenkins turned into a British celebrity with wealth she accumulated through much hardship. Knowing well the pain of refugees, she hosted a fundraiser that actor George Clooney participated in last year and raised 10 million pounds to help Darfur refugees in Sudan.

A select number of political and economic refugees successfully resettle in a foreign country like Jenkins, but the majority of them face difficulty. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said the number of refugees hit 15.2 million worldwide in 2008 but just 400,000 of them relocated to other countries after undergoing the refugee application process. The majority live like North Korean defectors wandering around China as fugitives or eke out a meager living in refugee villages. The world is neither flat nor fair toward refugees.

Korea has a poor record of accepting refugees. From 1994 to September last year, 2,410 foreigners applied for refugee status with the Korean government, but only 145 were accepted. Despite signing the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, Korea has a refugee acceptance rate of six percent, which is embarrassingly low. Against this backdrop, it is welcome news that the government will build a refugee support center accommodating 150 to 200 people on Yeongjong Island in 2012. The center was to be built in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, but this was canceled due to a backlash from the Paju city council and residents.

The countries that accept the most refugees are the U.S., France, Canada and the U.K. Developed countries are taking the lead in helping refugees. Korea considers its global status has risen after it joined the Development Assistance Committee of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and won the right to host the Group of 20 summit in November. Helping refugees is not just a humanitarian act but can also raise Korea’s global status. If Korea is willing to accept refugees, it will gain the moral authority to urge China to recognize North Korean defectors as refugees instead of repatriating them.

Editorial Writer Bhang Hyeong-nam (hnbhang@donga.com)