[Statement_May 9, 2016] The Korean government should immediately permit the entry of 28 Syrian asylum seekers detained in Incheon International Airport and grant them the opportunity to be reviewed for refugee status
The Korean government refuses to acknowledge that 28 Syrian asylum seekers who arrived at Incheon Airport last November are refugees, and is depriving them of the chance to be reviewed for refugee status. These 28 Syrians have fled their war-torn country to seek refuge in Korea, only to be detained in the Incheon International Airport detention center for six months. Their detention for such an extended time period is unlawful, as they are confined to the closed facility, given only chicken burgers and coke for food, verbally abused and threatened by airport workers, and restricted in their access to proper medical service.
Waiting for the government’s reasonable decision to resolve the case, we have continuously urged the government to permit the Syrian refugees’ entry into Korea. As a consequence of the government’s lack of response, the Syrian refugees’ health has steadily deteriorated during the long wait despite civil society’s efforts to provide counseling and basic supplies. The extreme circumstances have taken a toll both mentally and physically on the Syrian refugees, and the UN Human Rights Committee has already issued interim measures to the Korean government regarding the refugees detained in the airport, calling for humanitarian treatment and a cease on repatriations.
Suffering from the five years of war, countless civilians are sacrificed, including the recent destruction of a children’s hospital from air raids by Assad government in Aleppo last week. Currently, more than 99% of asylum seekers from Syria are being recognized as refugees in developed countries such as the United States, Canada, and Europe, and these countries seek various ways to contribute to these Syrians’ protection.
Last year at the UN General Assembly, Korean President Park Geun-hye publicly declared the need for humanitarian aid regarding Syrian refugees and Korea’s willingness to commit to the issue. The Republic of Korea has also demonstrated resolve to responsibly take the lead in refugees’ rights protection by having chaired the UNHCR Executive Committee in the past and being appointed to chair the UN Human Rights Council this year.
How does the Korean government intend to advocate refugee protection, given their reluctance to review these Syrians for refugee status and release them from extended periods of detention in the airport? Does the Korean government aim to return these Syrians to the battlefield? Or do they plan to continue detaining the Syrian refugees in the detention center in a neglected corner of the Incheon International Airport ironically renowned for excellent facilities? Who will take responsibility for these Syrians’ time lost from six months’ unlawful detention?
In solidarity with the detained refugees separated from their families on the terrible battlefield, we urge the Korean government to release these Syrians who are clearly refugees, permit their entry into Korea, and provide the chance to be reviewed for their refugee status. We demand the Korean government to revise its policy that leads to denying refugees at the country border on standards irrelevant to risk profiling criteria established by international society.