Asylum-seekers rise in Korea
Mr. A is a homosexual from Algeria, where being gay is considered a crime. On May 28, he won the case against the Korean government to continue with his application for refugee status. Five years after he came to Korea, he earned “freedom.” Mr. A chose Korea, where he has no relations, for a simple reason: “I had vague hopes that the country of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon would accept me.”
But for the first three years he lived as an illegal immigrant. In 2013, he applied for refugee status at an asylum shelter in Cheongju, North Chungcheong, but his case was denied. At risk of persecution upon returning to Algeria, he appealed to the Ministry of Justice, but his application was denied again. Lastly, he filed a suit. At the court, he revealed his sufferings in Algeria, including sexual assault, coming under attack from the police and being beaten by his own family. The court ruled that he had fears based on sufficient grounds for persecution according to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.
Mr. A is one of 19 foreigners who earned refugee status in Korea this year, as of April, out of the 1,221 who applied for refugee status.
Korea joined the UN Refugee Convention in 1993 and became the first Asian country to enact and enforce the Refugee Act in July 2013. The number of refugee applications has increased drastically ever since. In the first year, 423 people sought asylum, rising to 1,574 in 2013 and 2,896 in 2014. However, the approval rate of refugees is falling. In 2010, 11.1 percent of applicants were approved, but in 2012 and 2014, 5.2 percent and 3.2 percent were approved. After the enforcement of the Refugee Act, it became even harder to get refugee status.
After the act was enacted, illegal immigrants applied for refugee status because it meant they would be allowed to stay in Korea for at least two years to go through the Ministry of Justice review and administrative litigation. There are also not enough reviewers. According to Refugee Human Rights Center’s Director Kim Seong-in, the number of refugee applications is rapidly increasing while the number of reviewers at the Ministry of Justice remains the same. While the applicants qualify for living subsidies and employment assistance, only 10 percent get the benefits due to budget constraints.
June 20 is the United Nations’ World Refugee Day. There may be people headed to Korea to escape from persecution due to their race, religion, nationality, political stance and other reasons. In order to save them from more persecution while seeking asylum, the systems should be improved.
*The author is a national news reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo. JoongAng Ilbo, June 19, Page 29
by BAEK MIN-JEONG