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Taipei forum highlights challenges in refugee protection in East Asia

2017/10/25 23:31:28

Taipei, Oct. 25 (CNA) A refugee rights forum in Taipei on Wednesday highlighted the inadequacy of refugee laws in East Asia and the challenges in protecting refugees in the region.

In 2013, South Korea became the first country in East Asia to enact its own refugee act, and remains the only country in the region that has such a law, Jirim Kim, an attorney from South Korea who works at the GongGam Human Rights Law Foundation, said at the East Asia Refugee Rights Forum.

Since South Korea joined the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees in 1992, it has received more than 25,500 applications for asylum, and 688 applicants have been recognized as refugees as of April this year, she said at the forum at Soochow University's downtown Taipei campus.

Nonetheless, there are still problems and challenges ahead, such as the prevailing discretion of the authorities and a serious lack of funds and personnel, Kim said.

In addition, due to a high turnover of relevant officials and judges, it is difficult for people in such positions to gain specialized knowledge of refugee issues, she said.

"But these are things that I can define as problems because there is a law that guarantees some rights to the refugees and refugee applicants," she said.

Brian Barbour, a member of the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network who chairs the Japan-America Refugee Network, said Japan chose to add provisions to its immigration laws to better protect refugees, but the regulations are "very minimal."

He said he would like to see the incorporation of more international definitions and standards in the law. Barbour said there is also a need for procedural guarantees that would provide guidance on procedures and rights in a language the applicant understands and allow all applicants a personal interview and access to their files.

Wang Lung-kuan (王龍寬), a lawyer and member of the Taipei Bar Association's human rights commission, said Taiwan's draft Refugee Act had been stalled in the Legislative Yuan for years before it passed a preliminary review last year.

However, the Act consists of only 17 articles that give administrative authorities the power to set many of the relevant regulations, Wang said, raising the question of whether it would give government authorities too much power to decide the fate of refugees.

He said the judicial recourse was also unclear in cases where an individual failed to gain refugee status in the preliminary review.

Furthermore, the draft act does not specify the rights and obligations of refugees, he said. For example, it is unclear whether refugees will be given the same rights as citizens or as foreign nationals in Taiwan, he said.

Under the draft bill, those important decisions are left up to administrative authorities, he said, calling for such issues to be addressed.

(By Christie Chen)