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South Korea; United Nations: Korea’s First Granting of Citizenship Status to Refugee Praised by U.N. Body

(Mar. 29, 2010) On March 23, 2010, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) publicly praised the Republic of Korea (ROK) for granting citizenship to a recognized refugee, the first time the ROK had done so since adopting the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees almost 20 years ago. The former refugee is a 38-year-old Ethiopian man who arrived in the ROK in 2001 after fleeing persecution in Ethiopia. (Republic of Korea Grants Refugee Citizenship for the First Time – UN, UN NEWS CENTRE, Mar. 23, 2010, available at
; The 1951 Refugee Convention, UNHCR website, (last visited Mar. 24, 2010).)

According to UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming, “[t]his is a highly significant milestone in Asia, where few countries have signed the 1951 Refugee Convention, and even fewer have extended citizenship to refugees.” She added that citizenship “is the most comprehensive form of local integration” and expressed the hope that other Asian countries would follow the ROK's lead in granting citizenship to refugees. (UN NEWS CENTRE, supra.)

According to the UNHCR, the ROK has recognized 175 refugees since it began receiving claims in 1994, with the first recognition occurring in 2001. Humanitarian status (formal permission to reside in a country, on humanitarian grounds) has been granted by the ROK to an additional 93 persons. From 1994 to the end of 2009, the ROK has received almost 2,500 refugee applications; 321 of these claims are still pending. (UN NEWS CENTRE, supra.) The ROK deposited its instruments of accession to the Convention and to the 1967 Protocol on December 3, 1992. (States Parties to the 1951 Convention and Its 1967 Protocol, (last visited Mar. 24, 2010).)