1 January 2023
A group of civic organizations held a press conference, Friday, criticizing the Korean government for detaining anti-war Russian asylum-seekers at Incheon International airport’s departure area.
The Korean Civil Society Network in Advocacy of Peace and Human Rights for Russian Draft Evasion Refugees held a rally in front of the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) to call on the government to use “fair standards” and to grant refugee status to Russian asylum-seekers who have fled their country to avoid being drafted into the war against Ukraine.
“War is merely an arena of international politics, and those who have refused to be a tool for murder have left the battlefield to become refugees,” the civic organizations said. “However, the Ministry of Justice in Korea has reductively dismissed them as ‘not being worthy of evaluation,’ and has practically abandoned these refugees at the departure waiting room within the airport’s duty-free area,” they added.
According to the Ministry of Justice, the number of Russians applying for refugee status in Korea has significantly increased from 45 last year to over 890 since March this year, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
However, the Korean government has maintained that seeking refugee status for the purpose of avoiding being mobilized for war is not a valid reason for granting refugee recognition under the Refugee Convention.
The activists also accused Korean staff of using inhumane language and behaving improperly toward the asylum-seekers as well as failing to provide medical care to them.
“Rightful refugees who have opposed war and refused to be drafted are being detained at the Korean border, enduring times ripe with humiliation and inhuman treatment,” they said.
Lawyer Lee Jong-chan of the Advocates for Public Interest Law (APIL) provided examples of Russian asylum-seekers in Korea who had left their home country after Russia’s mobilization order in September or participated in anti-government demonstrations there, but were not given the opportunity to apply for refugee status because simply evading military service is not considered a valid reason for seeking refugee status.
Lee argued that objecting to military service in the context of a war, particularly if the objection is based on political opinions and the military action in question is condemned by the international community as violating basic human rights, could be considered a valid reason for granting refugee recognition and the penalty for such objection could be considered persecution.
Activist Aleksandra of the Voices in Korea, a Russian anti-war association, and the Feminist Anti-War Resistance in Korea, said that Russia is a terrorist state and that living in Russia is terrifying for ordinary citizens who know the truth about Russian war crimes.
“I understand the feelings of many Russians now. They have left their families behind in Russia, and their country is killing Ukrainians and torturing Russians. They have given up everything in their homeland to avoid becoming murderers and the last resort they have chosen is to go to a third country and become refugees. In theory, those fleeing mobilization in Russia should be considered at risk of committing war crimes,” she explained.
She added that to many Koreans, this situation might appear as though asylum-seekers from a terrorist country are using Korean taxpayer money at the border.
“However, refugees whose fates will now be decided in Korea will be forever grateful to South Korea. I would like to believe that after the war, I will be able to return to my homeland and create a democratic future for Russia,” Aleksandra said.
The civic groups called on Korea’s minister of justice to reverse the unlawful determination standard that stigmatizes Russian refugees and to immediately stop the refusal at the border that seeks to suppress Russian refugee applicants. They also requested improvements in the conditions at the departure waiting room where the asylum-seekers are held.
In addition, they asked the National Assembly to establish a special provision that allows hearings and determinations according to the Habeas Corpus Act in regards to the evaluation of refugee cases at the airport. #