South Korea’s human rights watchdog and refugee activists on Thursday called for better protection of the human rights of asylum seekers, taking issue with what they see as unfair practices in health insurance coverage and human rights violations at the airport.
Marking World Refugee Day, the activists raised concerns about a family of asylum seekers who are stranded at Incheon Airport after being denied entry to the country, and about other cases of mistreatment by immigration officials. These include allegations of assault, as well as forcible deportation without due process.
“More than half of the asylum seekers seeking the Korean government’s protection are being forcibly deported to their home countries without any chance to go through formal refugee screening,” said the activists in a statement.
In some cases, asylum seekers were handcuffed, assaulted and detained in a closed deportation room for months while the airport and immigration office shifted responsibility for the asylum seekers to each other, the activists said.
Lee Il, a human rights lawyer for Advocates for Public Interest Law, alleged that those who were denied entry were pressured or forced to go back to their countries without access to lawyers.
“The immigration office says all of the asylum seekers (who had been refused entry) voluntarily took flights out of Korea, but we don’t know whether they were threatened or appeased by immigration officials,” Lee said.
“We demand the government guarantee asylum seekers their very basic rights to access to lawyers, rights not to be deported, rights to take their case to the court.”
The refugee activists plan to file a petition with the NHRCK concerning the alleged human rights violations.
Choi Young-ae, secretary-general of the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, also urged the government to guarantee refugees the same level of social security as Koreans.
The Ministry of Health and Welfare in January allowed refugees and those on humanitarian stay permits to join the national health insurance plan, but critics said discriminatory standards are applied to them.