Economic and Social Rights of Refugees in South Korea: A Review of Laws and Policies

Since the Republic of Korea (South Korea) ratified Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (the Refugee Conventions) in 1992, there has been almost no implementation of the international standards until the country recognised the first refugee in 2001. Over the last decade, however, there has been some improvement in the government's refugee policies, that is in line with the significant changes of general immigration policies in response to the dramatically increased number of foreign residents including refugees.
It is controversial what is the scope of the States' responsibility in relation with the promotion and protection of foreigners' rights in general, in particular their economic and social rights. The case of refugees is, however, rather clear in the sense that the Refugee Conventions clearly provide the scope and level of entitlement of refugees' rights in comparison with the national or other foreigners. The Constitution of South Korea stipulates that "the status of aliens will be guaranteed as prescribed by international law and treaties" and that "treaties duly concluded and promulgated under the Constitution ... shall have the same effect as the domestic laws." Thus, the government of South Korea has the obligation to protect the status and rights of refugees in accordance with international standards and its own Constitution.
The laws and policies on refugees (and on foreigners in general) have developed in the way that government provides various "supports" to address the need of foreigners including refugees. The provision of "support", however, does not mean that the government recognised its obligation to the "rights" of foreigners. This paper discusses the gap between South Korean government's policies on foreigners and the related international standards with particular focus on economic and social rights of refugees.