ASIA NEWS NETWORK
WE KNOW ASIA BETTER
Publication Date : 02-02-2013
When Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s opposition leader, arrived here early this week for a five-day visit, she encountered a group of enthusiastic greeters who were moved to tears. For the Myanmar people staying here, it was a truly overwhelming moment to welcome the 67-year-old Nobel Peace laureate, who was released from two decades of house arrest in 2010 and was elected to the parliament of the Southeast Asian country last year.
It must have been particularly so for those who left their home country to escape persecution under its military dictatorship and have been granted asylum in Korea since the 1990s. Their presence appeared to strengthen the emotional bond and sense of partnership between Korea and Myanmar.
Since 1992, when it joined the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees, Korea has granted asylum to 320 foreign nationals, 130 of whom are from Myanmar, followed by 65 from Bangladeshi, 27 from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and 19 from Ethiopia.
It cannot be said, however, that the country has been active in accepting refugees, approving less than 10 per cent of asylum applications, compared to the world average of about 30 per cent. Seoul’s reluctant attitude may be partly attributed to its concerns that the refugee status could be used as a means for illegal emigrants to enter the country.
But it should pay heed to complaints from most asylum-seekers that Korean officials handling their cases lack knowledge of the oppressive situations in the countries they had escaped. Measures need to be taken to strengthen education for relevant officials and facilitate the process of deliberating on asylum applications. In recent years, the number of foreign nationals seeking shelter in Korea has been increasing, with many of them appearing to face the real possibility that they will face persecution in their own country based on their race, ethnicity, religion or social and political viewpoints.
The Korean public’s perception of refugees should also be changed and enhanced. Asylum-seekers, particularly those with political reasons, are not just people in need but also have the courage to say no in accordance with their beliefs. A society accommodating refugees wholeheartedly is also a better place for its citizens to live in. It is hoped that a new law on refugees, which takes effect in July, will help give more asylum-seekers opportunities to settle here and improve their treatment.
During her meeting with President-elect Park Geun-hye on Tuesday, Suu Kyi said when she speaks of peace and prosperity, she has the entire world in mind, not just her own people of Myanmar. Her remarks should reverberate through the hearts of all Koreans.