Korea to take in 30 Myanmar refugees for resettlement

A total of 30 refugees from Myanmar are expected to arrive in South Korea next week, as part of a United Nations-led refugee resettlement programme, the Justice Ministry said Monday.

The first batch of refugees -- 23 Myanmarese nationals of four families who have been staying in a refugee camp in Thailand -- will land at Incheon Airport on Tuesday morning. The rest -- a family of seven -- are to arrive in early August.

As part of the three-year pilot project, the government has granted 86 Burmese refugees permanent resettlement in the country. It took in 22 refugees in 2015 and 34 more last year, all from Myanmar.

After receiving a list of candidates recommended by the UN refugee agency, the government screened documents, conducted interviews and verified identities and medical conditions for about five months to select the refugees, the ministry said.

The Burmese refugees will be granted F-2 visas, which would allow them to live and work here. They will receive Korean-language education and job training at foreign support centres for about six months upon their arrival.

The move came as part of the refugee resettlement programme initiated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

South Korea, which became the first Asian country to enforce the Refugee Act in 2013, joined the programme in 2015 as a pilot project. It is the second Asian country to take part in the scheme following Japan, which began accepting refugees from a third country in 2010.

Under the programme, joined by 37 countries including the US, Australia and Canada, the UNHCR relocates refugees to host countries that provide resettled refugees with legal and physical protection.

In 2016, 125,835 individuals departed to member countries for resettlement, up 54 per cent compared to the previous year. There were 16.1 million refugees of concern to UNHCR around the world at the end of 2015, according to the refugee agency.

The Korean government is set to decide whether to extend the resettlement programme after assessing the outcome of the pilot project, the ministry said.

Park Mi-hyung, head of the International Organisation for Migration's Seoul Office, hailed the government's efforts to accept refugees for resettlement.

"I hope that the Justice Ministry turns the pilot project into a regular programme to admit refugees for resettlement," she told The Korea Herald. "It would be more desirable if the resettlement programme takes in a greater number of refugees from more countries, not only from Myanmar."

The government earlier said that it chose to accept Burmese refugees, among others, due to their similar cultural background and the well-established Burmese presence here, which they think will help them better integrate into Korean society.

A ceremony to welcome the refugees will be held at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday at the airport, with UNHCR Korea representative Naveed Hussain, the IOM Seoul Office's head Park and Justice Ministry officials in attendance.