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‘Humanitarian status holders deserve same protection as refugees’

Asylum seekers staying in South Korea with humanitarian status should enjoy the same protections and treatment as recognized refugees, activists monitoring the human rights situation facing 39 asylum seekers said Monday. 

Alqaifi Yasameen (Yonhap)
Alqaifi Yasameen (Yonhap)

Better access to information on how humanitarian status holders can adjust to life in Korea -- what rights they have and what services are available to them -- are also necessary, the activists said at the briefing held at the National Human Rights Commission of Korea.

“I didn’t know what my rights were and which jobs I could do. I came to Seoul (from Jeju Island) without any information,” Alqaifi Yasameen, a Yemeni woman living in Korea on a humanitarian stay visa, said at the briefing. “What I need is information to qualify myself for the society.”

Those whose lives are at risk in their home countries due to emergency situations such as war are granted humanitarian status, allowing them to work and live in Korea until it is safer for them to return.

There were about 2,145 people holding humanitarian status in Korea as of the end of September, including some 412 Yemenis who arrived on Jeju Island, 100 kilometers off the country’s southern coast, in spring last year. Out of 59,674 refugee applicants, 984 people have received refugee status.

Humanitarian status holders have G-1-6 visas, which can be extended on a yearly basis. But they are subject to a far lower level of social protection compared to recognized refugees.

They are neither allowed to bring their family member to Korea nor apply for citizenship. They are not granted basic welfare services such as subsidies for child care, medical care and housing. They are allowed to work while on the visa, but only in limited sectors, such as manufacturing, and only after finding an employer willing to hire them.

Due to a lack of awareness about the visa and language barriers, however, humanitarian status holders face difficulties in areas ranging from finding employment and sending their children to schools to opening a bank account, according to the monitor’s report.

“They have to explain that the G-1 visa holders are allowed to work and there are cases in which employers refused to hire them because of the visa status,” said Kim Yeon-joo, a human rights lawyer at the NANCEN refugee rights center.

As crises in war-torn countries such as Yemen and Syria are likely to be prolonged, the same level of treatment and social protection given to recognized refugees should be guaranteed to humanitarian status holders too, the activists suggested.