We missed an interesting legal development in South Korea earlier this year: the passage of a Refugee Act (Law No. 11298, signed by President LMB on February 10, entering into force 1 July 2013).
South Korea joined the Refugee Convention in 1992, shortly after entering the UN in 1991.The passing of the Refugee Act is a response to the absence of an adequate legal framework to deal with refugees, which were covered under existing immigration law. The law establishes the procedures governing the application for refugee status, the rights of refugees while being processed, and the procedure within the Ministry of Justice for determining refugee status, including appeals. The Act also outlines the social benefits available to refugees, including social security, social assistance, education and social integration programs. According to sources in South Korea, the new law has been criticized from several sides (lax processing procedures, narrow definition of refugee status, lack of specific protections).
The Act makes no reference to North Korean defectors, which are covered under separate legislation (the Act on the Protection and Settlement Support of Residents Escaping from North Korea). As we noted in an earlier post, South Koreans don’t even talk about North Koreans using the same language as those reserved for refugees from elsewhere. North Korean refugees go through different procedures and have benefits which are different from those accorded refugees under the new act. Once naturalized, they are of course South Korean citizens. While we understand South Korean sensibilities on this score, it might have been worthwhile for the new act to be explicit about how North Koreans are covered.