South Korea - Refugee granted citizenship for first time

Briefing Notes, 23 March 2010

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 23 March 2010, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

For the first time since the Republic of Korea adopted the 1951 Refugee Convention in 1992, a recognized refugee has been granted South Korean citizenship. The new citizen is a 38-year-old Ethiopian man who fled persecution in his homeland and arrived in South Korea in 2001.

This is a highly significant milestone in Asia, where few countries have signed the 1951 Refugee Convention, and even fewer have extended citizenship to refugees.

We are grateful to the Republic of Korea for its leadership in local integration, one of the three durable solutions available to refugees, and one that is rarely used in Asia. Citizenship is, of course, the most comprehensive form of local integration. We would be encouraged if other Asian countries took inspiration from South Korea's example.

South Korea recognized its first refugee in 2001. Since the government started receiving asylum claims in 1994, it has recognized 175 refugees and provided humanitarian status to a further 93 people who were found not to be refugees but still in need of international protection. Between 1994 and the end of 2009, the South Korean government received 2,492 applications and 321 are still pending.