South Korea welcomed nearly two dozen Karen refugees to the country this week as part of a three-year resettlement program that began in 2015.
The 23 people from the Mae La refugee camp on the Thai-Myanmar border arrived in Seoul on July 25, joining 86 refugees from Burma already resettled in Korea.
“We went to the airport to welcome them together with the heads of the Korean immigration department, officials from the UNHCR [UN High Commissioner for Refugees], representatives of the Red Cross, and a Karen interpreter. We have settled them at the Foreigners Support Center,” said Naw Eh Sa Phaw from the Korea Karen Organization (KKO).
Under the three-year pilot project, South Korea accepted 22 refugees from Burma in 2015 and 34 refugees from Burma in 2016. The 23 arrivals on July 25 made up most of the expected third batch, with another seven-member family scheduled to arrive and complete the three-year resettlement plan in August, according to Naw Eh Sa Phaw.
The refugees are given F-2 visas, which will allow them to work and live in the country. They will temporarily reside at the Foreigners Support Center in the capital to take Korean language and job training courses for six months. In three years, they will be eligible to sit a citizenship exam.
“We are teaching them the Korean language and Korean culture over a six-month period. We will resettle them outside [the Foreigners Support Center] after six months. We will give them jobs and places to stay. The children will be sent to school,” said Saw Tun Tun, secretary of the Karen Youth Organization (Korea).
South Korea’s refugee pilot scheme involved a five-month inspection period during which the names and health status of refugees selected for resettlement by UNHCR were scrutinized.
Most of the refugees from Burma in South Korea were from the Mae La and Umphiem refugee camps. The Myanmar community in Korea mostly lives in Gyeonggi Province, next door to Seoul.