Syrians at airport win a victory

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Syrians at airport win a victory

A group of Syrians marooned at the Incheon International Airport for months has won a lawsuit against the Korean government over the rejections of their refugee applications.

Incheon District Court said Monday that 19 Syrian nationals recently won lawsuits against the Immigration Office of Incheon International Airport, which is controlled by the Ministry of Justice, over their denied opportunities to file refugee applications. Monday was World Refugee Day.

Including the 19, some 28 Syrians arrived at Incheon International Airport from last November through January from their home country via various transit destinations including Turkey and China.

Although they sought refugee status in Korea, the Immigration Office rejected their requests, suspecting that they wanted to enter Korea to find jobs.

Stuck in the deportation room of the airport for months, they filed lawsuits demanding that their applications be accepted and processed.

The Immigration Office argued that the recent terrorist attacks in Paris were committed by refugees and their entries should be blocked to prevent a security risk to the country.

The court rejected the government’s argument.

“Those whose opportunities for refugee applications were denied will also be deprived of their opportunities to be assisted by lawyers,” the court said. “They, therefore, at least must be given an opportunity to file their applications.”

The court said the law clearly states certain grounds for rejections of applications, such as passport forgery.

“In order to meet Korea’s international status as a country protecting human rights, a law to protect refugees was established. Based on the intentions of the law, the government should do its best not to deprive opportunities to file refugee applications.”

If the government does not appeal, the Syrians will be able to leave the deportation room and start their application process. The court will also rule soon on petitions filed by nine other Syrians.

The ruling shows a gap in attitude between the judiciary and the administration on the refugee issue. The number of refugee applicants in Korea has grown from 1,143 in 2012 to 2,896 in 2014 and 5,700 last year. The government, however, accepted only 592 applications from people seeking refugee status.

Meanwhile, Chairman Lee Sung-ho of the National Human Rights Commission issued a statement Sunday to mark World Refugee Day on Monday and said the commission is looking into the bad conditions the asylum-seekers are enduring at the airport.

“Our society’s understanding and maturity is needed by the refugees who were forced to leave their homelands,” he said.

BY LEE YU-JUNG [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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