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Jeju Forum Alumni Newsletter
Titles [Jeju Forum Alumni Newsletter] (No.10 | December 2018) Global Refugee Crises: What We Need to Know
Writer JPI  (admin)
2018-12-24 오후 2:20:52

The number of refugees who fled their homelands to avoid conflict and persecution reached 65 million in 2016. Today, the global refugee population continues to rise and there are growing calls from the international community for Korea to devote more care and attention to the plight of displaced people. The Korean government started accepting refugee applications in 1994, and by the end of 2016, there were a total of 22,792 applications. However, only 3% of applicants or 672 individuals were granted refugee status. This figure is less than one-tenth of the average world refugee recognition rate which stands at 38%. In this session, United Nation’s High Commissioner for Refugees(UNHCR) Goodwill Ambassador Mr. Jung Woo-sung will speak with JTBC Newsroom anchor Mr. Kim Pil Gyu on his field visits to refugee camps in Nepal, South Sudan, Lebanon, Iraq, and Bangladesh and discuss how we can help alleviate the suffering of refugees around the world.

 

The following are excerpts from the final report of the Jeju Forum 2018. 

 

 

 

 

 

Moderator KIM Pil Gyu Anchor, JTBC Newsroom

Speaker JUNG Woo-sung UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador/Actor

Rapporteur CHOI Jeeyoung Staff, JoongAng Ilbo

 

 

 
 

 

● KIM Pil Gyu We were not really sure about the relevance of the topic of today’s session, when we discussed it early this year. We were worried that it might be boring to some people, as many were not interested in it. However, the topic has become a controversial issue over the last few weeks. Some might take the refugee issue very sensitively, and others might have some misunderstanding about it. I guess you all came here, thinking to yourselves, “I am ready to open my mind and learn about the refugee issue.” Some might still think otherwise. Anyway, I hope this session will be an occasion where every participant will freely discuss it with an open mind. Today, actor JUNG Woo-sung is here with us as a presenter. He is a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, who has become central to the controversy since Yemeni refugees on Jeju surfaced as a national issue.

 

● JUNG Woo-sung As a South Korean actor, I have been working as a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador. I posted about refugees on Instagram on the occasion of World Refugee Day, June 20, as I do as a goodwill ambassador. Many Koreans seemed to be very surprised at some strongly worded parts of the UNHCR Korea’s World Refugee Day statement. I fully understand how they felt about it and why they felt confused about it. There seems to be some discussion about the pros and cons about the refugee issue, but we need to talk, first of all, about why there are different views and perspectives. In fact, I often ask myself if I am doing something beyond my ability whenever I visit refugee camps in different countries.

 

● KIM Pil Gyu Do you mean you have visited refugee camps in person?

 

● JUNG Woo-sung Yes, I have. I went to Nepal in 2014 as an honorary advocate for UNHCR Korea. Then I visited refugee camps in Lebanon, South Sudan, Iraq and Bangladesh after I was named a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador in 2015.

 

● KIM Pil Gyu Now, we know that you served as an honorary advocate before being appointed a goodwill ambassador. Some people who left their comments about your controversial Instagram post did not even know you are a UNHCR goodwill ambassador. When did you start your goodwill mission?

 

● JUNG Woo-sung Many people still do not know it. The name of the organization is too difficult to remember, and how to address the refugee issue is not an easy matter, too. I guess they just thought that I was doing something good. That is why I had to keep thinking to myself as I toured the refugee camps, “What should I do to make this global issue understood by the Korean people? Is it too much for me?” I also thought about how I could explain to my friends the hardships the refugees are experiencing. In the past, refugees were simply none of our business, because they were just too far away to be taken seriously. However, the issue became our problem after hundreds of refugees flew to Jeju to seek asylum, and many Koreans seem to be asking, “Why do we assume the responsibility to accept refugees?”

 

● KIM Pil Gyu A total of 549 Yemeni people have arrived on Jeju. News reports say 486 Yemeni asylum seekers have applied for refugee status so far. The immigration authorities are currently reviewing their refugee claims. No visa has been required for a Yemeni to travel to Korea so far. But, Yemenis are not allowed to enter Jeju now on a visa waiver, because, following the arrival of them, Jeju added Yemen to the list of countries whose citizens cannot enter the island without a visa. Some Koreans think we should accept the Yemeni refugees from a human rights point of view. By contrast, other Koreans do not believe hospitality will solve their problems. What is your view about this?

 

● JUNG Woo-sung From a humanitarian and human rights perspective, it is just nonsense that Jeju excluded Yemen from their list of visa waiver countries. To check the entry of refugees with a visa is a dangerous idea, because it would put the refugees in a position in which they cannot seek shelter in any other country. The words, “human rights,” are nearly ubiquitous in every aspect of our lives, but ordinary people find the actual human rights issue intractable. Jeju residents, among others, might be angry or anxious, and would ask themselves, “Why do we have to be responsible for all of this?” This kind of reaction came probably because the government barred the Yemenis from leaving Jeju for the mainland. If allowed to leave the island, they might have stayed in Seoul and other cities with the help of Yemeni communities until the review of their refugee status was completed. I know it is not easy, but they might find jobs during the review, which in turn could ease the burden on Jeju and the central government.

 

● KIM Pil Gyu You could have expected a controversy like this when you accepted the ambassadorship. Why did you decide to take it?

 

● JUNG Woo-sung I roughly knew at that time what the organization was. When the organization made the offer, I had no reason to refuse it. I accepted it because I was glad to do anything that would contribute to society. But I came to have more of a sense of responsibility while carrying out goodwill missions. What motivates me is more important now than what motivated me to take this job. it is also important to me how I interact with society to share this value. I had a vague thought about how Koreans would perceive and react to refugees. When faced with an actual refugee situation, you cannot help in finding difficulties in addressing the refugee crisis. The reason I keep talking about the difficulties is that the root causes are much complicated. According to 2017 data presented by the UNHCR, the global population of refugees stood at about 68.5 million, which is the equivalent of Thailand’s population. Out of them, 25.4 million people are cross-border refugees while 40 million people are domestically displaced. That means about 44,500 people become homeless every day, or about one person displaced every two seconds. These huge numbers are a constant reminder that refugee crises cannot be handled on a national level and must be dealt with globally. The huge number explains why the Yemenis refugees had to travel all the way across the globe to come here. This has become a global issue. And that is why the UNHCR is proposing that the entire world come together as a single community to jointly find a solution to what caused the refugee crises, not the refugees’ problems themselves.


● KIM Pil Gyu The number, 68.5 million, is larger than the South Korean population. The number of forced refugees also amounts to Thai population. What is the reason for the continued increase in refugees?

 

● JUNG Woo-sung It is never-ending war and conflict. Some people ask why we should care about the none-of-our-business conflict between religious sects. You probably heard that the interests of Western powers have been involved in these wars and conflicts. War and conflict are not issues that can be resolved by a mere dialogue. We will be able to understand what is behind all of this if we continue to do our part as a member of the international community.  

 

● KIM Pil Gyu The international community is continuing its efforts to reduce the number of refugees. It seems, in a sense, that the UNHCR’s appointment of a celebrity like you as goodwill ambassador was part of such efforts.  

 

● JUNG Woo-sung I do not think that was the case. My job is, on the contrary, to help the general public better understand the refugee issue, discuss the fundamental problems and call for political solutions to the conflicts causing the refugee crises. There is nothing more I can do about it. Ultimately, it is up to the people of each country to call for political solutions. So, I think the international community can find solutions if we recognize, understand and share the seriousness of the causes of war and disputes.

 

● KIM Pil Gyu The living conditions of refugees are poor because they are staying in developing countries. Are the refugees not having a hard time due to the lack of accommodation facilities at refugee camps?

 

● JUNG Woo-sung Yes, they are. I met Rohingya people, displaced from Myanmar, when I visited the Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh. Bangladesh already had about 160,000 refugees before another 720,000 refugees from Myanmar poured into the country because of the escalated violence in August 2017. A border city with a population of 880,000 was established with the sudden influx of refugees. Some may think Bangladesh and Myanmar, as neighboring countries, should work together on the Rohingya issue. However, the border city could not have been built if the Bangladeshi government had not approved their refugee status. Aid agencies, ranging from the UNHCR and UNICEF to Doctors Without Borders, have formed a community at the Kutupalong refugee settlement. The relief agencies are there to help the refugees with healthcare, education, food and other necessities of life. In the absence of potable water and sewage facilities, they are struggling to provide daily necessities. They desperately need our attention and support.

 

● KIM Pil Gyu You are right. There are disabled people, and children suffering from the trauma of war. The continued provision of psychotherapy for such children is an important issue there.  

 

Q. Are war criminals and terrorists eligible for refugee status?

 

A. No, they are not. You may get it wrong if you are not familiar with the refugee review system. Refugee status is determined very strictly under the regulations specified in the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, the Refugee Act and other applicable laws. Why would any terrorist go through that thorough procedure of exposing their identity? Instead, they would pose as a tourist or a businessperson to enter the country. It is highly unlikely, therefore, that they will qualify for it. Even those who happened to commit a criminal offense on their way to apply for asylum will be denied refugee status, not to mention criminals.  

 

Q. Do most refugees seek settlement in a third country?

 

A. No, they do not. They are different from immigrants who move for financial reasons. Their ultimate dream is to go back home because they only had to leave their homeland to escape a sudden crisis. I hope they will return home, send their children back to school and restore normalcy to their lives. I have not seen any refugee seeking settlement in a third country.

 

Q. Are North Korean defectors refugees, too?

 

A. North Koreans are also considered as South Koreans who are yet to acquire full citizenship because the Constitution of the Republic of Korea defines the whole Korean Peninsula as its territory. That means they acquire Korean citizenship as soon as they set their foot on South Korean soil. We used to criticize North Korea for its human rights abuses. If North Koreans who fled to a third country are repatriated to the North, they are very likely to be tortured and persecuted to death. Some Korean people are asking the government to repatriate Yemeni refugees, but this might put their lives at risk.

 

● KIM Pil Gyu More than 500 Yemeni refugees on Jeju Island have become our problem. There are somewhat emotional reactions as well as overheated debate. Recently, more than 200,000 Koreans filed a petition to the presidential office in less than a month to demand the government should not accept these refugees. According to news just minutes ago, the petitioners grew to 380,000. I would like to ask your opinion about this.


● JUNG Woo-sung We surely need to discuss this issue because it is something Koreans have never experienced before. But there seem to be concerns about unfounded and exaggerated rumors, or touchy reactions off the mark. Some people question why we have to consider refugees’ human rights before Koreans’ rights. No, we do not. It is just that we should care about their human rights as they deserve the same treatment as all human beings. No one should be given priority over others. And this issue seems to provide an opportunity for us to examine the problems of our own society. Mothers are having a hard time raising their children. The younger generation in their 20s and 30s are complaining about joblessness and deprivation. Women are concerned about being exposed to sexual crimes all the time. To make matters worse, the influx of the 500 refugees from Yemen sparked an outcry from some Koreans that, “Things are already hard for us.” The government should listen to them and ease their difficulties. I think, however, it is also time for the people to back the government so that it may play its due role as a member of the international community by collecting wisdom to resolve this issue.

 

● KIM Pil Gyu Ambassador Jung reminded us that the Yemeni issue allows us to reflect on the many problems of Korean society. He looks determined to continue raising his voice over the refugee issue while paying unwavering attention to it. What are your plans from now on?

 

● JUNG Woo-sung It is a UNHCR goodwill ambassador’s job to visit a refugee camp every year to let the people here know about the hardships of refugees. First of all, I wish I could be of service in sharing wisdom to address this new, huge issue in our society. I was planning to go on a goodwill mission, as usual, later this year, but I want to see this domestic issue resolved first, before embarking on my next mission.  

 

● KIM Pil Gyu Do you mean that you will continue raising your voice about the Yemeni refugees on Jeju?  

 

● JUNG Woo-sung I will if necessary. And this session seems to have allowed me to do so. As I said, protecting our own people living in this country is one thing, but accommodating refugees is another issue that has something to do with global society. Korea must fulfill every commitment it has made to the international community. To that end, we have to give reassurance to those who are worried and concerned about refugees, and I think it will take time and effort to do that. This is not about who is right or wrong.

 

Q & A 

 

Q. I was quite curious why the U.K. is sitting back on the sidelines, and the UN and other countries are closing their eyes to the U.K.’s accountability for Myanmar’s crackdown on the Rohingya. The U.N. has never commented on the way many of these world powers sowed the seeds of conflict in the “Third World” that produced refugees. What do you think of that, Goodwill Ambassador Jung?

 

A. JUNG Woo-sung I agree. I said earlier that the interests of the Western powers were behind every conflict. The aftermath of the Cold War and imperialism have led to wars and disputes as we see today. 

 

Wars produce refugees, and the entire world shares the burden. What I would like to say is, therefore, that we should squarely look at the problem and its causes so that South Korea can have a say in international society as a responsible member. If we say, “We are out of this because that’s all your fault,” without doing our part, the Western powers would not say, “Okay. South Koreans are pretty smart.” Rather, they would say, “We will see what happens.” that is the reality. We may be preoccupied with immediate costs and benefits. However, we should be more prudent in judging what serves our national interest.

The way we see ourselves is different from how the world sees us. South Korea is one of the world’s 10 largest economies. The world is asking us to shoulder responsibility corresponding to the size of our economy. We need to think about ways to enhance the country’s profile in the world when addressing refugee and other international issues. We cannot ignore the worries of mothers about their children, nor younger people about their job opportunities. I am not denying the pressing concerns of our society. We have no choice but to do both, helping ourselves and helping others.
I am not suggesting that we give up our rights to give them to refugees, but that we share our rights with the refugees. I sometimes talk about Japan. I ask, “Japan does not accept refugees, does it?” In 2017, Japan donated more than $150 million to the UN Refugee Agency, which translates into $1 per capita. Our country contributed about $22 million, the equivalent of $0.3 per capita. And that explains why Japan has the all the right to make statements. The Yemeni refugees cannot receive the grants from their host country without meeting strict requirements. A Yemeni refugee who applied for refugee status killed himself.

His application for a grant was rejected, when he was jobless due to the language barrier. He had only 50 won in his bank account when he died. He had to renew his stay every three months and six months. The refugees are not in the position to take away our jobs. Some people might tell me that I am getting too sentimental, but I am just telling the truth. How can we tell our children to “love the world” when we refuse to accept other races, other people or other religions? We cannot say, “You deserve all the love in the world,” either. I have enough of an understanding of the positions of the people who oppose acceptance of refugees, but I would appreciate if they broaden their perspective just a little wider. 

 

Policy Implications

 

• Before discussing pros and cons on refugee issues, we need to broaden our perspective on them to better understand them.
• The refugee issue also gives us an opportunity to reflect on the dark side of our own society, such as the record-low birthrate, jobs crunch and intergenerational conflict. The government should address people’s complaints by listening carefully to them. Koreans, in turn, should help their government collect wisdom on the refugee issue so that it may perform its due role in the international community.
• The refugee issue also gives us an opportunity to reflect on the dark side of our own society, such as the record-low birthrate, jobs crunch and intergenerational conflict. The government should address people’s complaints by listening carefully to them. Koreans, in turn, should help their government collect wisdom on the refugee issue so that it may perform its due role in the international community.​