▲ Lawyer Hwang lecturing about refugee rights. Photographed by Lee Che Yeon.
On May 27, an introductory seminar on refugee law was held in room 205 in the College of Law. Hosted by School of Interdisciplinary Studies Committee for Minority Rights (SISCMR), the seminar covered many topics including human right and, hate, racism and limitations in current refugee acts.
Hwang Pill-kyu, a lawyer from Human Rights Law Foundation GongGam started the seminar by illustrating what he thinks the fundamentals of human rights are. “Human rights issues always boil down to people and their stories” he stated, reflecting on his past when he paid too much attention on separate incidents and failed to listen to people’s stories. Illustrating how narrowly human rights were perceived in United States (U.S.) under Lincoln, he asserted human rights discussions should always stay open.
Hwang explained the core controversy in refugees and their rights is the perceived range of ‘we’ and ‘them.’ In one section of a report that South Korea submitted to United Nations (UN), it read that since most Koreans are “pure-bloods” rather than “mixed-bloods,” racial discrimination is not severe in the nation. Such usage of language shocked the global community and proved how racial supremacy exists evidently and extensively in South Korea. Similar incidents repeatedly occurred throughout 2000s and 2010s, only emphasizing how much the nation is far behind from racial integration.
Then Hwang pointed out holes and limitation that exists in current legislations. For example, the Multicultural Families Support Act limits multicultural families to families which have at least one Korean citizen included, which is a considerably racist way of defining multicultural families. Hwang highlighted the urgency of finding a middle ground to not only protect human rights but also maintain order in the country. South Korea ranks 139th in refugee acceptance rate. Furthermore, the nation's interpretation of “possibility of persecution”, an important condition in being categorized as a refugee, is overly narrow. Despite such constant criticisms, South Korea is taking a slow change.
Son Seyoung (’17, School of Interdisciplinary Studies), the captain of SISCMR, stated that the seminar made her realize how urgent professionals in refugee laws are needed. “Courses on refugee laws do not exist in School of Interdisciplinary Studies curriculum which made me come to think a seminar on this field will be helpful for students” she states, adding that it is the goal of SISCMR to allow students who are willing to work in legal circles to have better understanding on the lives of minorities.
The seminar ended with a short question and answer (Q&A) session and Hwang’s last words of encouragements to have more interest in refugee issues.