39 Ethiopian asylum seekers in difficulty filling in forms
By Bahk Eun-ji
A group of 39 Ethiopians seeking asylum here are having difficulty filling in forms as they are obliged to write in either English or Korean.
They are the descendants of Korean War veterans who have received job training, such as mechanic, welding and electrical skills under the official development assistance (ODA) programs held by the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) for the past nine months starting from last December.
A total of 60 descendants came to Korea through the KOICA program, and 39 are in the process of refugee applications, according to Refuge pNan, a non-government organization (NGO) aiding asylum seekers.
The Ethiopians have finished the training session and are about to receive certificates.
Most of the asylum seekers say they apply for refugee status in fear of persecution if they go back to their country, as they joined the political party against the Ethiopian government and engaged in various political activities.
A 29-year-old woman who didn’t want to be identified, said she was persecuted because of being Muslim.
“We are helping them to fill in the application form. The document has to be written in either English or Korean, but most applicants can’t speak those languages,” said Kim Ji-yoon, the legal coordinator of Refuge pNan.
Kim said the language matter is an endemic problem for refugee applicants, because most of them have never learned English or Korean.
Under the Immigration Law, immigration officials should help asylum seekers fill in necessary application forms when they have language problems. But they were denied the services from immigration officials, according to officials from Refuge pNan.
They have to fill in 14 pages of application forms.
“Asylum seekers can’t speak Korean or English. How can they, who are mostly poor, get translators to fill the form without help from immigration officials or other public servants?” Kim asked.
For its part, the Ministry of Justice said that the immigration office cannot help in filling out forms because of lack of manpower to support them.
“As of now, we cannot provide translation support as we lack people who speak French. But we are trying to find ways to help them,” a ministry official said.
Refuge pNan is now providing shelter for the asylum seekers and working to fill in their applications for asylum with the help of some students from Ethiopia.
Ethiopia is the only African country that fought for South Korea during the 1950-53 Korean War. Among the dispatched 6,037 soldiers at that time, 122 were dead and 536 wounded in the war. Veterans of the war and their descendants have been discriminated by the Ethiopian Communist government since 1974. They mostly live in a shantytown called Korea Sefer, meaning Korean Village.