200 Syrians Seek Asylum in South Korea
Michael Song, Nov. 19, 2015, 7:27 a.m.
Some 200 Syrians have come to Korea to seek asylum, the National Intelligence Service said Wednesday. The NIS said 135 were given "quasi-refugee" status, while 65 are still being processed at Incheon International Airport. But in a muddle typical of Korean government agencies, the Justice Ministry later said only 80 Syrians had been granted quasi-refugee status while 120 were still being screened.
Quasi-refugee status allows foreigners to temporarily reside in Korea on humanitarian grounds although they are not considered as refugees. Under a pact with the UN and according to domestic laws on protecting refugees, foreigners are considered refugees if they are being persecuted for their ethnicity, religion, nationality, social affiliation or political views. But people who are displaced by civil war or natural disaster are not considered as refugees.
Most Syrians looking for asylum here are fleeing the war raging in their country, so the government only grants them a temporary stay on humanitarian grounds, according to the Justice Ministry. The NIS does not believe the Syrian asylum-seekers pose any terror threats. Saenuri Party lawmaker Lee Cheol-woo told reporters after being briefed by NIS officials, "The Syrians who went to Europe traveled by boat, while those who came here arrived by plane, so they are financially quite well off."
The lawmaker said Syrians who are granted temporary stay here will continue to be closely monitored and can seek permission to stay in Korea permanently. Shin Kyoung-min, a lawmaker for the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy, said the NIS explained the status of Syrian escapees because of fears of terrorists entering Korea posing as refugees after last Friday's terror attacks in Paris.