Milestone in Asia as Ethiopian man is granted South Korean citizenship

For the first time since the Republic of Korea adopted the 1951 Refugee Convention, a recognized refugee is granted South Korean citizenship.

A group of Ethiopians at a UNHCR centre in northern Somalia. South Korea gave an Ethiopian citizenship.  © M.Deghati/UN

SEOUL, Republic of Korea, March 24 (UNHCR) - 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 significant milestone in Asia, where few countries have signed the 1951 Refugee Convention, and even fewer have extended citizenship to refugees.

A UNHCR spokesperson said the agency "was 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.

The Philippines has also granted citizenship to three Iranian refugees and one Palestinian refugee since 2006.

By Hye-Jeong Yoo in Seoul, Republic of Korea