South Korea’s Refugee Policy in the Yoon Administration: A New Openness to International Standards?

Please join the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission for a hearing on “South Korea’s Refugee Policy and the Yoon Administration: A New Openness to International Standards?” 

Hosted by:

Christopher H. Smith
Member of Congress
Co-Chair, TLHRC

James P. McGovern
Member of Congress
Co-Chair, TLHRC


  • Jong-Chul Kim, Esq. Senior Researcher, Advocates for Public Interest Law
  • Ethan Hee-Seok Shin, Ph.D., Legal Analyst, Transitional Justice Working Group
  • Moon Jun Sohn, M.D., Ph.D., Director, We All Friends (NGO), Professor, Neurological Surgery, Ilsan Paik Hospital, Inje University, Korea
  • Suzanne Scholte, Ph.D., Seoul Peace Prize Laureate and Chair, North Korea Freedom Coalition
  • Kennji Kizuka, Associate Director, Research & Analysis, Refugee Protection, Human Rights First


In his inaugural address on May 10, 2022, President Yoon Suk-yeol spoke of the Republic of Korea’s role as a responsible global citizen committed to human rights, while affirming its key economic and cultural leadership role. While the latter theme was not new – Segyehwa, referring to “internationalization” or “globalization,” has been official policy of Korea for the past 30 years – Yoon’s emphasis on human rights and commitment to global obligations has spurred some observers to anticipate that policies toward refugees might meet with greater openness than has been the case in the past.

The Republic of Korea is a State Party to the 1951 Refugee Convention, having acceded to it in 1992. It was not until 2001 that Korea recognized its first refugee, however, and it has one of the lowest rates among the developed countries in terms of granting refugee status.

From detention measures that fail to meet international standards to designating the nearly four hundred Afghans who had worked for Korea as “special contributors” rather than refugees, South Korea’s policy towards refugees has been an outlier among developed nations. While its policy distinguishes defectors from the North who have a special status under South Korea’s Constitution and laws, from refugees, witnesses will attest that in recent years South Korea has been often less welcoming of them as well, beyond the reduction attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This hearing will examine South Korea’s record on refugees, its commitment to international standards including the principle of non-refoulment with regards to both North Korean escapees and refugees from repressive regimes, the prospects for change under the new administration of President Yoon and suggest implications for Congress.

Pursuant to H. Res. 965, Members of Congress and witnesses will participate remotely via Cisco WebEx. Members of the public and the media may view the hearing by live webcast on the Commission website. The hearing will also be available for viewing on the House Digital Channel service. For any questions, please contact Jungahn Jane Kim (for Co-Chair Smith) or Kimberly Stanton (for Co-Chair McGovern).