After Paris attacks, passport law to be changed

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After Paris attacks, passport law to be changed

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is revising its passport law to make it more difficult for Korean nationals to go to countries it has put a travel ban on, such as Syria.

The government is keen to avoid a repeat of the case of an 18-year-old Korean teenager who joined the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, after disappearing in Turkey near the border with Syria on Jan. 10.

He was immediately suspected by Korean authorities of crossing the Syrian border to join ISIS and was found to have been obsessed with the violent jihadist group.

In February, the National Intelligence Service confirmed that the teen, a middle school dropout surnamed Kim, was receiving training at an ISIS camp in Syria.

Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Lim Sung-nam said at a meeting of the National Assembly’s foreign affairs committee on Tuesday that the ministry “assumes [Kim] is dead,” though officials are still trying to track his movements and confirm his fate, including with the Korean Embassy in Turkey.

In a move to help protect overseas Koreans, the Foreign Affairs Ministry is working on revising the passport act to make it even more difficult for individuals to seek an exemption to visit a travel-banned country. Under the current law, Korean nationals can be granted an exemption for “urgent humanitarian reasons.”

The revision will restrict exemptions to only allow travel when there is an urgent humanitarian reason, such as taking care of a death, illness or accident involving a spouse or immediate family member overseas.

Korea has travel bans on six countries: Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria and Libya.

“The purpose of that clause in the legislation is to grant our citizens who have an emergency situation an exemption to the travel ban to visit a family member, not to allow relief or humanitarian activities,” a foreign affairs official said. “We need to quickly revise the law which enables our people to use their passport to travel based on an incorrect understanding of the intent of the law.”

It will also tighten clauses that offer leeway for Korean citizens to be permanently based in countries with travel bans. The revision will force Koreans to confirm they live in that nation “for a clear reason.”

BY YOO JEE-HYE, LEE JI-SANG [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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