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(Yonhap Interview) Star actor Jung Woo-sung says public interest highly important to tackle refugee issue

2017/12/16 08:00

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By Koh Byung-joon

SEOUL, Dec. 16 (Yonhap) -- Public interest is highly important and may be a starting point in tackling the challenges and miserable living conditions facing people who had to leave their countries due to war or persecution, a South Korean star actor said.

In a written interview with Yonhap News Agency, Jung Woo-sung, goodwill ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), urged people to realize that the refugee problem is not a distant thing but something that could happen to anybody at any time.

"Protecting and supporting refugees is what humanitarian aid groups such as UNHCR have to do but we need political solutions to tackle the root cause," Jung said. "For the sake of political solutions, we need ordinary people like us to have interest in those issues."


The veteran actor recently came back from a visit to refugee camps for Rohingya people in Bangladesh as UNHCR goodwill ambassador. Since 2014, it was his fifth trip to refugee camps that previously took him to Nepal, South Sudan, Lebanon and Iraq.

In the camps, about 900,000 Rohingya people, a Muslim minority in Myanmar, sought asylum after fleeing their Buddhist-dominated country. According to a U.N. report, they are suffering from a chronic shortage of necessities, water and food amid poor sanitation.

"The situations there were worse than the refugee camps I had visited. As many refugees were flowing in such a short time, they arrived even before necessary basic facilities were completed. It was hard to find any glimpse of hope on their faces," he said.

"I met many refugees but it was all horrible stories. Kids saw their parents die, parents saw their kids' deaths ... I heard very abject situations where it was hard to find human rights of any kind," he added.

Jung said that there might be political and historical aspects to the Rohingya issue but expressed frustration, saying many of the people didn't seem to know exactly why they ended up there.

"I think we need to put aside the reasons why they are being oppressed and have to see the persecution, oppression and human rights violations that the Rohingya people are suffering now and provide help from a humanitarian perspective," he said.

Visiting many refugee camps and seeing their inhumane situations firsthand over the past few years, Jung said that he feels more grown up in terms of understanding people and the world.

"Now I can understand better about people and the world. I thought a lot about what it takes to live together. And I also realized that our world is closely connected though many think that we live far apart," he said. "Refugees are never irrelevant to our lives."

   He hoped Korean people have more interest in refugees, driving home the fact that they are living in a country where they could face a similar fate at any time.

"We tend to think refugees live far away from us, not having to do with us at all, but in fact we are still at war and living in the world's only divided country. We could become refugees any time," he added.

Asked how he handles sometimes traumatic memories from his trips to refugee camps, Jung said that he rather tries to cherish his experiences to remember their hardships and suffering.

"I try to cherish the memories rather than get over them. Sometimes my memories about them inevitably get blurred as I go back to business as usual but when it happens, I feel sorry thinking how much I should keep their suffering in my mind," he said.