Home > North Korean Human Rights > Korea Government’s high rejection rate of refugees a matter of national security

Korea Government’s high rejection rate of refugees a matter of national security

Tues June 15

By Myungjin Lee

In March of 2010, South Korea granted citizenship to a refugee for the first time in the nation’s history. The refugee, a 38-year-old Ethiopian man who arrived in 2001 however, this milestone event cannot be extended to others pursuing asylum.

After several acts of espionage by North Korean defectors, the South Korean Justice Department has rejected a large number of refugees to give asylum. Due to the heated political climate between North and South Korea and anti-terrorism strategies, national security concerns easily ignore human rights for refugees. Thus, a number of refugees who seek legal resolution are dramatically increasing; 121 cases have been filed to the Seoul Administrative Court from January to May of 2010 compared to 15 cases in 2008. The Korea Justice Department rejected 994 refugees in 2009 a feat considered sudden and unusual by international standards.

These decisions were made based on cases of espionage by North Korean defectors such as Kim Soon-nyeo, a 36 year-old woman under custody. According to Seoul’s Yonhap News, she reportedly passed herself off as a refugee from the closed communist state, then began a relationship with a former subway employee. After courtship the employee would hand her classified information, including emergency contacts for Seoul’s subway system. South Korean authorities fear the information could have been used by Pyongyang for terrorist attacks.

In 1992 the South Korean government adopted the 1951 Refugee Convention, since then they have received a total of 2,492 applications for asylum, most from North Korea.

According to Korean law, article 16-2 related to refugee rights maintains that people can seek protection in Korea immediately but the Korea Justice Department only guarantees 90 days to legally stay in Korea, after which they expel or reject a majority of refugees instead of granting them asylum. Even though the law has defined refugees as people who are from an area of which there is a fear of infringement of life, body and physical freedom, there are still people who are not refugees still in need of international protection. ■

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