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May 2000, Volume 7, Number 5

North and South Korea

South Korea. The South Korean Justice Ministry said that it would crack down on illegal residents in April 2000, since some unauthorized foreigners did not leave during "amnesties," periods during which foreigners could leave without paying fines of up to 10 million won and without being barred from re-entering South Korea. There were an estimated 135,300 illegal foreigners in South Korea in January 2000, down from the peak estimate of 150,000 in late 1997, but up from the low of 92,000 of summer 1998.

The only unauthorized foreign workers exempted from the crackdown are those who claim that Korean employers owe them wages; they will be provided with free legal services to try to collect back wages before they leave South Korea.

South Korea, which has not accepted any refugees since it signed the Geneva Convention in 1992, is changing its internal policies to allow foreigners to apply for asylum on political or religious grounds after they are inside South Korea. Under current law, foreigners must apply for asylum within 60 days of their arrival (Japan also requires foreigners to apply for asylum within 60 days of their arrival). None of the 54 foreigners who applied for asylum in South Korea since 1994 has been recognized by South Korea as a refugee. The UNHCR said that South Korea puts the "burden of proof" on the foreigner to show documents that, if returned, she would face persecution as per the Geneva Convention.

North Korea. There are an estimated 30,000 to 50,000 North Koreans in China, and many of them fear that they may be returned to North Korea. In January 2000, Russia and China cooperated to forcibly repatriate seven North Koreans in what the UNHCR called a direct violation of international law. UNHCR interviewed the seven in the Russian port city Vladivostok and determined that they faced "grave consequences" if they were returned to North Korea. Russia nonetheless sent the seven to China, and China returned them to North Korea.

South Korea says that North Korea's population has fallen from 25 million to 22 million during the famine that began in 1995, with up to 15 percent of residents dying in some areas.

Chan Jae-soon, "Korea's refugee policy improved, but still needs work," Korea Herald, April 15, 2000.