Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Refugees from Myanmar seek hope through resettlement in S. Korea


By Choi Soo-hyang

YEONGJONGDO, South Korea, June 20 (Yonhap) -- When 35-year-old Myanmar refugee Nei Oo arrived in South Korea with his wife and three sons in December, his top priority was to educate his kids in a better environment.

Since his family moved into the Korean Immigration Reception Center in Yeongjongdo, 40 kilometers west of Seoul, he has added more to his wish list.

"I want to work if there are any good jobs open, not only to afford an education for my children but also to live well here with my family," Nei Oo said Monday during an interview celebrating World Refugee Day.


Nei Oo, a Myanmar refugee who came to South Korea in December 2015 from a Thai refugee camp, answers questions during a press conference held at the Korean Immigration Reception Center in Yeongjongdo, 40 kilometers west of Seoul, on June 20, 2016. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees resettlement program transfers refugees living in temporary camps in an asylum country to another country that has agreed to admit them. (Yonhap)

Nei Oo is one of 22 ethnic Karen refugees from Myanmar that arrived in South Korea last year as the first beneficiaries of Seoul's new resettlement program.

The refugees, four different families, previously stayed at refugee camps in Thailand to avoid oppression in Myanmar before coming here.

Most of the families said education, among other factors, led them to choose South Korea as their third country.

"Life back in Thailand was too harsh," Day Nya said, adding she could not work outside nor send her kids to school. "Now they all go to school here and we have hope."

The immigration reception center where the refugees are staying is a state-run organization that provides adjustment programs to refugees and asylum applicants.

"We are now providing vocational education so that the refugees can find their interests and capabilities before leaving this center," said Park Jin-soo, director in charge of the refugees' education.


A group of Myanmar refugees who arrived in South Korea in December 2015 poses during an event celebrating the World Refugee Day at the Korean Immigration Reception Center in Yeongjongdo, 40 kilometers west of Seoul, on June 20, 2016. (Yonhap)

A total of 51 people, including the four Myanmar families, are currently living at the center.

The center said it will start integrating the families into local communities starting September with the goal of finishing the procedure by the end of this year.

South Korea introduced the refugee program last year to accept up to 30 refugees every year until 2017 on a trial basis, granting them with F-2 visas.

It plans to decide whether to formally keep the refugee program after close analysis.

"They (refugees) are people like us," said Naveed Hussain, the chief of the Korean branch of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). "The only difference is that we have a home to go and they don't have a home."

He said it is an obligation of the international community to provide them protection until they get back on their feet.

Kim Woo-hyeon, the chief of the Korea Immigration Service, also vowed to put efforts into changing paradigms in supporting refugees in the country and embracing them into society.


Myanmar refugee Nei Oo and his family give a tour of their room at the Korean Immigration Reception Center in Yeongjongdo, 40 kilometers west of Seoul, on June 20, 2016. Nei Oo's family, along with three other Myanmar families, arrived in South Korea as part of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees resettlement program. The program transfers refugees living in temporary camps in an asylum country to another country that has agreed to admit them. (Yonhap)

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