By Kim Se-jeong
Korea will bring 30 Burmese refugees from a border town between Thailand and Myanmar to help them resettle here in the nation's first resettlement program.
Selection work is underway for the Karen people at the refugee camp in Mae Sot with the help of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), according to the Ministry of Justice, Monday.
About 30 Karen people will be brought to Korea in December. The resettlement program came after Korea established its own refugee law in 2013.
"Resettlement refugees" refers to those who are displaced, mostly living in refugee camps, and who hope to settle in a third country.
A host country usually selects them and brings them into its country following the UNHCR's recommendation.
Twenty-eight countries have accepted such refugees, mostly European and North American. Japan was the first Asian country to accept refugees under such a system in 2010.
"We have chosen Karen refugees because we believe they will have the most peaceful and fastest transition into Korean society," said a ministry official, asked to be identified only as Jeong.
Out of 522 people who have been recognized as refugees here since Korea started accepting refugees in 1994, 158 are Karens and the Karen community in Korea is sizable and active, Jeong said.
"We believe this community can help them settle in Korea," he said.
The refugees will be taught the Korean language and receive job training for up to a year. They will be granted refugee status and receive F-2 visas.
The Karen National Union began waging a war against the Central Myanmar (then Burma) government in early 1949.
Today, almost 400,000 Karen refugees are believed to live in Western Thailand.
The ministry said the resettlement program was a pilot project, and after carrying it out through 2017, the ministry will decide whether to continue the project.
The latest announcement came amid high public attention on refugee issues, especially people from Syria.
More than 12,000 people have applied for refugee status in Korea since 1994, of whom about 760 have been Syrians.
Kim Seong-in, secretary general of Nansen, an NGO that helps asylum-seekers in Korea, criticized the government for going against the international trend.
"The Syrian refugee crisis is a big issue around the world, and other developed countries have come forward to accept these refugees," Kim said.
Only three out of the 760 Syrian asylum seekers have gained refugee status here.
"We shouldn't stay silent," Kim said. "I urge the government to increase the size of resettlement refugees and accept some from Syria."
But Jeong said, "There are so many displaced people around the world. The Syrian refugee issue is serious but it receives ample attention and support. The Korean government's approach is to take care of other vulnerable people when the world's attention is on Syria."