Prosecutors indict illegal broker over refugee scam

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Prosecutors indict illegal broker over refugee scam

Authorities have indicted a broker for illegally assisting a group of Egyptians seeking employment in Korea in entering the country via a shell company and falsely applying for refugee status for them, Seoul prosecutors said Wednesday.

The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office said that a 28-year-old Egyptian man was charged with violating the immigration control law for bringing more than a dozen Egyptians into Korea earlier this year.

The man found the Egyptians in March - collecting an average of $5,000 from each - set up a shell company and arranged for the company to invite them to the country under the pretense that it was for business purposes.

He arranged for nine of the Egyptians to apply for asylum status with the Korean government, providing accommodation and training them to act like refugees who had faced persecution in their home country, according to prosecutors.

They added that he took advantage of the fact that refugees could evade forced deportation from Korea.

This is the first time a person has been charged for brokering refugee applications.

The broker himself entered the country as a tourist last year and is also an illegal immigrant.

The crime came to light when the Seoul Immigration Office got wind of the situation after some of the Egyptians tried to apply for refugee status there.

The Egyptians explained to officials that the man had promised to help them get employment but did not follow up on his word.

Prosecutors are currently searching for the man’s accomplices, his older cousin and a Korean man surnamed Ahn, who forged company invitations.

The number of asylum seekers in Korea has increased over recent years, with 423 applying for refugee status in 2010; 1,011 in 2012 and 1,143 in 2012, according to the Ministry of Justice.

The Korean National Assembly passed a refugee law, the first for an East Asian country, which was implemented in July 2013. There were 1,574 refugee applications in 2013, of which 57 were accepted.

In 2014, there were 2,896 applications, of which 94, or 3.2 percent, were accepted. Between January and May this year, 1,633 people sought asylum.

The refugee law enables asylum seekers to submit applications at international Korean airports and ports of entry. Recognized refugees are eligible to receive government benefits and opportunities for vocational training. It also allows them to get jobs six months after gaining asylum status.

According to the Korea Immigration Service, between 1994 and 2013, there were 121 Egyptian refugee status applications.

But as of August 2015, there were more than 400 refugee applications, indicating there are likely other similar cases out there.

Officials say they are in the process of conducting further investigations to crack down on other brokers bringing in illegal immigrants and abusing the country’s refugee system.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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