Can Korea cure its refugee unease?

Nearly 400 Afghan evacuees who had worked alongside the South Korean government arrived in Korea in late August.


The Korea Herald spoke to two Afghans and a Korean NGO for refugees about the situation for refugees here and how to challenge misperceptions about people who are forced to flee their homes.

Lee Ho-taeg

Executive director, The Refugee pNan

Refugee approval rate in South Korea

Refugee admissions to South Korea have declined in recent years in proportion to the number of applicants. The government’s unwillingness to protect displaced people, increasing anti-refugee sentiment among South Koreans and the country’s focus on aiding North Korean defectors have been identified as the main culprits.

The Refugee Act was revised in December 2020 and now disallows people who have been denied refugee status from applying again. Some activists have called this a backward step in the nation’s refugee system.


“The problem is that the government views asylum-seekers as ‘fake refugees’ who are abusing the refugee system,” said Lee Il, a lawyer at Advocates for Public Interest Law.


As the world's 10th-largest economy, Korea faces mounting calls to increase support for the international community. Its refugee approval rate is the second lowest among G-20 countries.


An Afghan interviewee, who wished to remain anonymous due to ongoing security threats, said the problem stems from a lack of education. "When I say that I'm from Afghanistan, people directly associate Afghanistan with Islam, but Islam is not everything. That is just a part of our identity."

Shelter, jobs, residence permits, and recognition as refugees are what the evacuees need the most, Lee says. He also calls for offline and online social campaigns to create an environment in which refugees are welcomed so that changes in government policy will follow.


Najeeb Begi

Afghan student in Korea

Najeeb Begi asks Koreans to be more sympathetic toward Afghans who had to flee their country as Koreans did in the past.


By Hyunbin Park Photo, video by An Jeong-yeon, Lee Eun-soo