Religious refugee may win asylum in Korea

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Religious refugee may win asylum in Korea

An Incheon court ruled in favor of a Burkina Faso national who came to Korea to escape religious persecution in his country and appealed against immigration authorities who were denying him refugee status and attempting to deport him last year.

The asylum-seeker, whose identity is being withheld for his own protection, arrived by plane at Incheon International Airport on Oct. 31 from Burkina Faso in West Africa, but because of his poor English skills he had trouble communicating that he was seeking asylum in Korea. As he passed through the immigration office, he was not able to explain on a refugee status application his reason for seeking asylum, as he is fluent in French but does not understand English.

The Incheon Airport Immigration Office in turn tried to deport him from the country, denying him an opportunity to undergo screening to gain refugee status in Korea. The asylum-seeker, who had converted to Catholicism, was said to have felt unsafe in his predominantly Sunni Muslim home country.

Unable to communicate this, however, he was held at airport immigration, awaiting deportation for about two weeks. When he finally managed to communicate that he felt his life was in danger, immigration officials said that his testimony did not add up, and denied him a screening for asylum status.

He in turn filed a suit against the immigration office for denying him an opportunity to receive refugee status.

The Incheon District Court ruled in his favor on Tuesday, saying, “It is problematic to try to deport someone when the opportunity for refugee status screening exists.”

The individual, however, will have to undergo a separate screening process to be granted refugee status in the country.

According to the Ministry of Justice, there were 5,711 applications for refugee status in Korea last year, and 1.8 percent of these cases, or 105 applications, were granted. The number of refugee seekers increased over fivefold in the past four years. In 2012, there were 1,143 refugee status applicants, of which 60 were approved.

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

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