SEOUL-- The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Filippo Grandi on Wednesday urged relevant countries on Wednesday not to deport North Korean refugees who risk their lives in fleeing their country.
"I assured the foreign minister (Kang Kyung-wha) that UNHCR is concerned by the situation of North Korean refugees anywhere, especially given the situation of the human rights in North Korea," the high commissioner said in a press conference in Seoul. UNHCR is also known as the U.N. Refugee Agency.
"The appeal that I make all the time, to all the countries, is that North Korean asylum seekers and refugees should never be sent back to their country because they risk their lives," Grandi said. "You know the principle 'people should not be deported when they are at risk' is especially valid for North Koreans."
The high commissioner also commended South Korea's government policy to automatically take North Korean defectors coming to South Korea as its own citizens.
"I commended the foreign minister for this policy. They don't need us to do this particular work," according to him.
Still, South Korea needs to do more to improve its system to take refugees from other part of the world, he pointed out.
"Korea is one of the few countries in the region that has had specific legislation for refugees since 2013 ... (but) the application of that law still needs to be improved," Grandi noted.
Good refugee status determination systems need to be very precise "because people come with very difficult stories," he said. "If you make a mistake, if you say you are not refugees, so go back home, you may be risking this person's life. That's why it has to be almost like a medical examination."
He also said the process should also not be too slow. "So you have to balance quality and speed. This is what needs to be improved in Korea and in many other places," the high commissioner said.
He said he suggested the improvement during his meeting with the South Korean justice minister and the minister "fully accepted" the government's cooperation on the issue.
South Korea also committed its increased financial contribution to UNHCR, he also said, referring to his meetings with the foreign and justice ministers here as well as the acting head of South Korea's official development assistance provider KOICA, lawmakers and civic groups.
"I thanked Korea for its growing support. Now Korea has been, for the last couple of years, part of the group of major donors for UNHCR," Grandi said. "I was assured by the foreign ministry this trend will continue. I believe that Korea, as a G-20 country and a prosperous country, can afford to make even additional efforts to help us in the time refugees are increasing all over the world."
He also extended special thanks to the South Korean public who doubled their financial assistance to UNHCR. This year the South Korean government provides UNHCR with about US$25 million in contribution, and UNHCR's target from the Korean public this year is $37 million, he said.
Source: Yonhap News Agency