Alleged defector, 17, is denied asylum in Sweden

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Alleged defector, 17, is denied asylum in Sweden

A teenage boy who claims to be a street child from North Korea is facing possible repatriation to his Communist homeland via China after Sweden turned down his asylum bid based on a faulty screening process, a South Korean civic group said Thursday.

The Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights issued a press release to publicize the situation of the 17-year-old suspected refugee.

According to the civic group, the boy escaped from North Korea when he was 16 and arrived in Sweden via China and Russia. Swedish authorities, however, have decided to deport him to China because they believe he is a Chinese national.

“Swedish authorities should be well aware of the fate of North Koreans deported from China to North Korea, as established by the report by the UN Commission of Inquiry, and therefore should stop his imminent deportation to China,” the civic group said.

It also alleged that the boy’s request for asylum was rejected based on an insufficient and improper investigation into his identity. “A private company was hired by the Swedish authorities to assess the boy’s nationality,” said Lee Young-Hwan, an adviser to the Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights. “The methodology, language analysis and the questions in the interview lacked the expertise to determine whether the boy was actually from North Korea.”

Additionally, the decision to deport the child was reportedly made even though one of the interviewers concluded that the child was, in fact, from North Korea.

“She is certain he is from North Korea and maintains that she never indicated otherwise,” the civic group said. “She herself is from North Korea, but left the country decades ago when she was a child.”

According to the organization, Swedish immigration authorities decided to turn down the boy’s asylum request based on a faulty primary investigation. The initial interview asked leading questions and prevented the teenager from answering candidly, Lee said. The interviewer also lacked knowledge of North Korea, including the country’s geography and commonly used words.

The civic group also said the private-language analysis company, Sprakab, has a history of providing inappropriate advice to immigration authorities in asylum reviews in Britain.

The Supreme Court of Britain criticized the Swedish linguistics firm last year for having given “wholly inappropriate” opinions to asylum tribunals, and the British media have raised concerns that hundreds of asylum seekers may have been wrongly deported due to its improper service.

While the civic group could not verify the alleged defector’s identity independently, it said there was a better way to do so. “The child’s origin should be assessed by an independent expert from South Korea who is equipped to deal with North Korean refugee cases,” it said.

According to Lee, the boy reportedly refused to be sent to South Korea, though the group still urged the South Korean government to take a proactive stance and asked Sweden to hand over the boy, instead of sending him to China to face repatriation to the North.

Lee said the boy may have been one of the defectors who had once settled down in the South but decided to seek asylum in Europe by lying about his newly acquired South Korean citizenship, adding that the European Union still needs a better system to verify claimants’ petitions.

“They can ask the South Korean government to check the applicants’ fingerprints to see if they had a history defecting to the South,” Lee said. “And they can also ask the South to provide its expertise and use its database to verify asylum seekers’ identities.”

BY SER MYO-JA [myoja@joongang.co.kr]


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