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(Yonhap Interview) U.N. commissioner for refugees urges peaceful resolution of N. Korean tension

2017/11/22 19:41

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SEOUL, Nov. 22 (Yonhap) -- United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Filippo Grandi on Wednesday called for efforts to resolve tensions on the Korean Peninsula to prevent any conflict that would lead to devastating existential consequences.

"This is not just about refugees. This is about the possibility of a conflict ... It's very difficult to make scenario planning in the situation," he said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency in Seoul.

"As a refugee organization, it's important for us to say, to echo the appeal that has been made by our political colleagues, in particular the (U.N.) secretary general, for a peaceful resolution of this tension," Grandi said.

"This is very important because we know war, because we deal with the consequence of it. War in this region could be very devastating so we hope that everybody will continue to negotiate and find ways forward which is peaceful."

   He commended South Korea for accommodating North Korean asylum-seekers. South Korea automatically accepts North Korean defectors as its own citizens and financially helps them settle in.

"If South Korea said we can't, we should close the border, then we would be worried, but this is not the case," he said. "Those people here actually did well as they should so we don't need to worry about that aspect."

   He promised that the U.N. refugee agency will be there to help in the event of any conflict on the peninsula.

"We have made ourselves available to provide assistance in planning and helping displaced or refugees if there would be probably in case of conflict."

   For its own part, UNHCR is appealing to China and other countries not to repatriate North Korean refugees, which puts them at grave risk.

The high commissioner also urged South Korea to expand its acceptance of refugees from the rest of the world, pointing to a low rate of asylum seekers in South Korea who actually win refugee status.

"There are, for example, Syrian refugees, refugees from the Middle East and Africa that needs resettlement ... In Asia, there are African refugees in Pakistan and Iran. Some are very vulnerable and need resettlement," he said of how South Korea can do more to help refugees.

"The number of resettled refugees in the U.S. has gone down considerably. The new administration has reduced considerably ... so there are more refugees that are in need of resettlement now that they won't be able to go to the U.S." he also said. "So it's important to step up."

   Grandi also praised the South Korean public for their financial contributions to UNHCR.

With an estimated fund of US$36 million for this year, the contribution from South Korean individual donors marks one of the three biggest private funds UNHCR take, he noted. The others are from the U.S. and Spain.

"This year, it would be close to 200,000 regular contributors (out of South Korea's population of 50 million). So this is really special," he added.

pbr@yna.co.kr

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