S. Korean Justice Ministry offers 2nd chance to refugee applicants who were victims of false interview accounts

Posted on : 2020-04-21 17:12 KST Modified on : 2020-04-21 17:12 KST
Most of those eligible for re-application are Arabic speakers from Egypt
Asylum seekers testify about their experiences of being refused refugee status based on false interview accounts at the National Human Rights Commission of Korea on June 18, 2019. (Park Jong-shik, staff photographer)
Asylum seekers testify about their experiences of being refused refugee status based on false interview accounts at the National Human Rights Commission of Korea on June 18, 2019. (Park Jong-shik, staff photographer)

The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) plans to extend a renewed application opportunity to thousands of refugee applicants who were found to have been improperly disqualified from reviews due to the falsification of interview reports by Korea Immigration Service officials. The measure is intended as restitution to victims of interview report falsification that took place over a three-year period after streamlined review procedures for refugee interviews were introduced in 2015.

According to the Hankyoreh’s investigation on Apr. 20, the MOJ plans to accept renewed refugee review applications from individuals who were disqualified for recognition as refugees between Sept. 4, 2015, and July 1, 2018, after conducting their interviews in Arabic. Following the issuance of these guidelines from the MOJ, local immigration offices have been receiving renewed applications from disqualified individuals since Feb. 3.

While no official figures are yet available of those eligible for re-application, the fact that over 2,000 refugee applicants alone came from Egypt, where Arabic is the national language, and had a refugee status recognition rate of 0.75% has some predicting the number of Egyptian nationals alone who re-apply may exceed 1,500. If refugee applicants from Morocco, Libya, Sudan, and elsewhere are also factored in, the number of individuals re-applying may be greater than 2,000. The MOJ’s falsification of refugee applicants’ interview reports first came to light when a refugee rights groups filed a petition with the National Human Rights Commission of Korea in July 2018.

In 19 instances of abuse investigated by the group at the time, the interview reports drafted by an immigration office employee included identical wording stating that the individual had “applied for refugee status in order to work and earn money.” This means that individuals who fled to escape political and religious oppression were disqualified in the interview process due to the inclusion of falsified interview report responses stating that they had “come to earn money.” The MOJ acknowledged the mistake at the time and administered new interviews in September 2018 after invoking its authority to overturn just 55 of the applicants’ disqualifications.

But the MOJ’s standards for selecting the 55 have remained vague, and as additional cases of abuse were reported, refugee rights groups held a meeting in June of last year to hear accounts from victims, before moving to demand compensation and punishment of those responsible. The MOJ subsequently announced that it would be imposing stern disciplinary measures on three officials for falsifying interview reports -- but the absence of any criminal complaint has led to some accusing them of “shielding their own.”

The MOJ plans to immediately issue alien registration numbers by request to refugee applicants who were eliminated due to the report falsifications. The measure is a reflection of how many of them have been living as unregistered sojourners since their departure order was issued. The MOJ also plans to expunge all records for those who were caught working illegally without an alien registration card. Refugee applicants are typically allowed to work once six months have elapsed since their arrival in South Korea, while re-applicants are allowed to work immediately.

Commenting on the MOJ’s measures, the UN Refugee Agency told the Hankyoreh, “We welcome the opportunity for a rehearing being provided to refugee applicants, who require a transparent refugee application review and the protections of South Korea.”

“Hopefully, this will be an occasion for improving South Korea’s refugee application and review protection procedures,” it said.

By Lee Jae-ho, staff reporter

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]

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