[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 in 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 civilian 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’ right 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 in the

terrible battlefield, we urge the Korean government to release these Syrians

who are clearly refugees, permit the entry of them into Korea, and provide the chance to be reviewed for the refugee status. We demand the Korean

government to revise its policy that leads to deny refugees at the country

border on standards irrelevant to risk profiling criteria established by

international society.