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Top court rejects asylum application for gay Egyptian man

July 13,2017
Korea’s top court overturned on Wednesday a lower court’s ruling, rejecting the refugee status of an Egyptian man who filed for asylum because he had faced persecution back home as a result of his sexual orientation.

The 26-year-old man, whose identity has been withheld, entered Korea on a B-2 tourist visa in April 2014. In May of that year, three days before his visa expired, he applied for asylum status with the Seoul Immigration Office, noting that he faced persecution back home because he is a gay man.

When his case was rejected on the grounds that there was not sufficient enough evidence to prove he had faced persecution, he filed a suit against the chief of the Seoul Immigration Office that same month.

While gay sex itself is not illegal in Egypt, an Islamic nation, there are no anti-discrimination laws for members of the LGBT community, marriage is not legal for gay couples and gay men and women cannot serve in the military, among other things.

The man claimed that after it became publicly known that he is gay in his home country, his brother was kidnapped under the order of conservative party members, and that there is a high possibility that he could be physically harmed or his life threatened in Egypt.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday overturned a lower court ruling regarding the asylum-seeker, sending the case back to the Seoul High Court.

A lower court initially ruled that there was no document to prove he was gay, and that his claim that his brother was kidnapped was not enough. It added, “It does not appear that the threat of societal persecution is enough to warrant asylum status.”

However, in an appeals trial last year, the Seoul High Court said that the man should be granted asylum status, recognizing the discriminatory environment against gay people in Egyptian society.

In 2008, a Libyan student was deported from Egypt for being gay, and the court also decided to uphold the decision.

In 2014, a group of eight men were sentenced to three years in jail for attending the wedding of a gay couple.

During his trial, the Egyptian asylum-seeker said he discovered he was gay when he was 10 years old and that he has had sexual relations with several men over the past decade. He also testified that since he arrived here, he has met with Korean men through dating apps.

The high court ruled, “The applicant’s testimony is consistent and convincing,” and said that it showed the persecution and terror he must have felt in Egypt. “It seems that the threat of persecution if one is gay in Egypt is very high, and in such a case, if one’s sexual orientation cannot be expressed openly, that in itself can be a form of persecution.”

However, nine months later, the top court overturned that ruling.

The Supreme Court said that persecution for one’s sexual orientation has to constitute a threat to one’s physical well-being or freedom in order to warrant refugee status.

It also challenged the asylum-seeker’s credibility, noting that his answers during his interview for refugee status and his testimonies in court did not match up.

While the top court’s ruling has narrowed his chances of receiving asylum in Korea, he can still extend his sojourn here as the lower court reviews the Supreme Court’s ruling.

It is, however, notoriously difficult to obtain asylum status in Korea.

Korea joined the UN Refugee Convention in 1993 and became the first Asian country to pass refugee protection legislation in 2012. The Refugee Act was subsequently enacted in July 2013.

Last year, Korea received 7,542 refugee status applications, and this year, the number of asylum-seekers is expected to exceed 10,000. However, last year Korea accepted 1.82 percent of applicants, or 98 people, as refugees.

BY YU GIL-YONG, SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]


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